Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Summer rockpooling finds

Luidia ciliaris with extendable tube feet - showing why they're speedy starfish!

Luidia cilaris besides it's smaller "cousin" the Cushion Star - probably a girl - they are male only in their first 4 years of life at which point they turn female!

My favourite Painted Topshell

One edible crab...the smaller shell on left is the moult  - his softer, bigger self on right.

A lovely Snakelock Anemone

Here's just a couple of pics of some of our finds that we came across during the Summer holidays The Luidia starfish definitely an unusual one for our shores...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Dates for Summer Rockpooling Sessions!

Please find below dates for SUMMER 2011 season of Rockpool Rambles and Interidal Foraging Trips with Maya Plass (as seen on Springwatch / Autumnwatch and more soon - see www.mayaplass.com for short films). Other dates may be available so please contact if you have any additional requests.
Cost - £10/ person for 2 hour session - all equipment provided. Please ensure booking to ensure spaces - 10 children max per group. Over 8 year olds can be left unaccompanied - full insurance, risk assessments & CRB checks.

Date                                    Time                 Session     
Thursday 28/07/11         10-12am    Rockpool Ramble
Friday 29/07/11              11-1pm      Rockpool Ramble
Saturday 30/07/11        12-2pm      Rockpool Ramble            

Monday 01/08/2011        1-3pm        Rockpool Ramble
Tuesday 02/08/2011       2-4pm        Rockpool Ramble
Wed 03/08/2011              3-5pm       Rockpool Ramble
Thu 04/08/11                    3-5pm        Rockpool Ramble
Fri 05/08/2011                 4-6pm        Intertidal Foraging        
Sat 13/08/2011               12-2pm     Rockpool Ramble              

Mon 15/08/2011             1.30-3.30pm     Rockpool Ramble
Tue 16/08/2011              2-4pm                Rockpool Ramble
Wed 17/08/2011            2.30-4.30pm     Rockpool Ramble
Thu 18/08/2011              3-5pm                Intertidal Foraging        
Sat 27/08/2011              11-1pm             Rockpool Ramble            

Mon 29/08/2011           12.30-2.30pm     Rockpool Ramble
Tue 30/08/2011              1-3pm                Rockpool Ramble
Wed 31/08/2011             2-4pm                Intertidal Foraging        
Thu 01/09/2011              13.30-3.30         Rockpool Ramble
Fri 02/09/2011                   3-5pm             Rockpool Ramble
Sat 03/09/2011                4-6pm              Rockpool Ramble

For more information on Maya’s work go to www.learntosea.co.uk and www.mayaplass.com and to book a space call on 07811 349966 or email info@learntosea.co.uk 

Moor to Sea on the Avon - the final exhibition!

On Friday the four schools from Moor to Sea brought their fantastic displays to Aveton Gifford village hall for the final exhibition. As explained in previous blogs - the schools showcased their patch of the water catchment from (practically) Moor To Sea. As the visitors entered the hall they were taken on a virtual journey from moor to sea of the River Avon.
Local naturalist Gordon Waterhouse looking at South Brent Primary schools display in the upper freshwater reaches of the Avon.

Loddiswell Primary School's display of the lower river catchment

A pupil's plasticene model of the River Avon
Aveton Gifford's Multi Media display to showcase the upper estuary wildlife!

Thurlestone Primary School's colourful display - including sensory objects!

Caddis Fly Larvae

Rock covered in caddis fly larvae

A life size egret from a crafty pupil

So, we started in the upper reaches of the Avon with the display entitled, "Our Island". In South Brent the school's local patch of the Avon forks to form an island which locally is simply called, "The Island". The children from South Brent Primary School had created a beautiful display of their Island. They showed real imagination and skill with their poems inspired by their Da Vincian sensory exploration. They also illustrated their local wildlife which we saw on the day - the caddis fly larvae, the dipper, the nuthatch and the real stars - the Jay that swooped down onto the Tawny Owl. The children discovered that there were not many invertebrates in the area they kick sampled perhaps due to a suspicious looking outfall pipe from a neighbouring house. The tawny owl they drew had an opening flap to reveal a happily digesting mouse!

We then moved down from the fast flowing island to the more leisurely flowing river down at Aveton Gifford. Here, the children were delighted to find an array of invertebrates from freshwater shrimp, dragonfly larvae and damselfly larvae - the signs of a really healthy, clean river - as was the Dipper. Their display showed some really well drawn freshwater shrimp with all physiology in tact! They included a lovely poem with the description, "The Avon is magic, like a bold wizard." A wonderful description which really showed how much the Avon had inspired them!

Aveton Gifford Primary School had really gone to town - well to estuary I suppose. They had created an amazing display of multi media wonders. They had all been given homework to create something to contribute to the display. There were two powerpoint presentations showing amazing PC skills and fantastic content!  There were papier mache models of the river, swans, egrets and a life size heron! They had looked at the species they had found and written facts on each one. There was also some beautiful writing, poetry and pictures. As you might guess - this school became the winning school for their enthusiasm, content and efforts. Although, there were some close contenders! They had the upper estuary catchment to explore - which included succulent samphire, swans, egrets and seaweed plus freshwater streams teaming with tadpoles and the odd newt!

Finally, we had Thurlestone Primary School's colourful and artistic interpretation of their part of the Avon -  the saltiest, most marine of the 4 patches. Their display was full of pictures of fish, seaweed, sand eels and crabs! The wonderful "Peace" poem as previously blogged was also included. Following on from their sensory exploration they included some buckets of seaweed and estuary gravel to help bring the experience to life!

All four schools were incredibly impressive with their very different displays. They were very involved in their nature journals and I hope they will continue to use these to explore their local surroundings. It has been a wonderful experience to be involved in this project. It has been great to see that the children were able to explore their local patch of the Avon - all within walking distance. It has also been very encouraging to offer the 4 schools vouchers for field studies kit to use on future trips. The 3 schools received £50 of field studies kit and the fourth winning school £200 of field studies kit. This is really encouraging to think that the children will have better opportunities to explore their surroundings in the future!

Thanks to the Aune Conservation Association and South Devon AONB for funding the project, the 4 local schools for their inspiring work and the 3 expert judges Stuart Watts (chairman of the ACA), Gordon Waterhouse and Don Gaskins. It has been a real pleasure to take the journey from moor to sea with the school children.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Shield Bugs, Tawny Owls, Newts and very happy children.

Never work with children and animals. I categorically refute that statement. Every time I take a group out on to the shore or beside the estuary or river I am amazed by either one of them - normally both.

Yesterday, I took a school group out for "Moor to Sea". The school is situated  beside the upper reaches of the source of the estuary. Surrounding the estuary are a series of streams that create an amazing merge of freshwater and saltwater creatures. In the workshop the children discovered newts, tadpoles, hundreds of grasshoppers, crabs, samphire and much more besides. We'll be working up our poems and creative pieces tomorrow.

Today, I headed up to the upper reaches of the Avon - to meet with South Brent Primary School. We walked down from the school to what is locally called, "The Island" where the river forks to create an open grassy knoll which seems to be popular haven for dogs & their walkers!

We discovered caddis fly larvae, worms, shield bug, nuthatch, dipper, an array of insects and...wait for this...a jay swooping down on a tawny owl. I'm not sure who was more excited the children or adults! It's moments like these which are just so priceless.

When we got back to the classroom the children made some amazing descriptive pieces of writing, poems and stories. I asked them, "What was the best thing you saw today?"   a child's voice piped up - "shieldbug!"

...reminding us all that every creature is special.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Peace on the Estuary

The first school has now completed their sessions on "Moor to Sea". It has been an incredibly enjoyable experience and I really look forward to the other 3 sessions with the other schools further up the catchment. The children have "worked" really hard to heighten their senses and their ability to perceive their local environment. I think this poem quite clearly says it all. This is written by a 10 year old girl who wrote this on our beach session whilst concentrating on our senses and how the estuary made us feel.


Waves lapping against the boats
Water trickling and rippling
It makes me feel white, like doves so peaceful
Like at that moment it was like I could beleive anything
Like the most wildest and funniest things
It was like I was in a trance
Under a spell..."

Needless to say I was bowled over when I read her poem. I love the way in which she reflects she "could believe..the most wildest and funniest things" - a perfect description for all the weird and wonderful things we see, hear and feel beside the estuary. I am truly in a spell.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Moor To Sea on World Ocean Day

Today, was a truly perfect celebration of all that is salty for me here in South Devon. After sending my daughter off in blue, to tell two as part of her "wear blue, tell two" campaign I walked the coastal path to collect my first class for the "Moor to Sea" project. The sun was shining, the wind was powerful - creating white horses that pounded my favourite beach. Sometimes the sea feels so intensely passionate and today was no exception.

So, as previously blogged, "Moor To Sea" involved inviting my 4 local schools for an exploration of their local "patch" of their catchment from moor to sea. For today's school it meant the mouth of the estuary. This is, in practically all concerns, a marine zone. You will find many of the creatures that you find on a sheltered intertidal beach here. However, through the nature of the river cutting it's way through the landscape you have a better sense of the integration of land and sea.

I wanted today to be an exploration of the children's senses. Leonardo Da Vinci once said that the average human, "looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking."

In modern society we forget to explore, use and celebrate our senses and the interconnected nature of our world that results from them. This was not going to happen today with "Moor to Sea" and this is the essence of the project - as well as exploring the wildlife of the catchment.

The first hour was spent exploring our senses. Initially, the children closed their eyes took a deep breath and listened... They were left in silence to simply listen... They then put hands up and when I tapped them on their shoulder they described what they could hear.. "water lapping against boats....waves crashing against the shore...gulls...the wind whistling..." they were creating poetry as they spoke.

In their Da Vincan style "Nature Journals" they wrote their experiences, feelings, thoughts and questions. These notebooks were not a place to write or draw something right or wrong. This was their opportunity to explore their thoughts and contemplate their surroundings and ask questions of what they saw, heard and felt.

They then looked at their hand and then the landscape behind it - focusing their visual senses. They explored the sights around them and considered the impact of these things on our estuary.

We then meandered along the estuary edge, carefully, until we came to a local small "beach". They then spent some time touching objects and concentrating how they felt and how they made them feel.

They focused their sense of smell on elderflowers, seaweed dry and fresh and wrote their words to describe these.

Slowly, they were collecting a magical list of vocabulary which will go toward their creative piece that we will work on in follow up sessions.

After increasing their perceptions of their surroundings they collected objects / wildlife to discuss on the beach as an object that best represented their patch of the Avon. We looked at the wildlife and talked about how some of the things we sensed might effect them and and about their adaptations to the intetidal zone. Although, this science will be worked on in our classroom sessions later.

There is something very special about seeing a child slow down their every day excitement and focus on their beautiful environment. They independently, diligently wrote all their thoughts, feelings, experiences and developed questions they wanted answering. It was a pleasure to watch - doubly so because it was World Ocean Day.

Children should have an opportunity to really learn how to look, listen, touch, eat, move, breathe and talk with right mindfulness. It is a skill and quality which Leonardo Da Vinci proves can lead to great things. But it is also something which can be so much fun and such a pleasure to work on and is a great "tool" to connect children with their environment and begin to understand it through all it's many layers.

Happy World Ocean's Day folks.

I can't wait to work with this class again and the other 3 schools to create some scientific, literary and artistic genius...magic.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Rockpool Ramble with BTCV Youth Group

On another glorious sunny day, Learn To Sea was honoured to be part of the last celebratory day of a 3 year project running with BTCV (British Trust Conservation Volunteers). This project was a youth group based conservation project from Exeter.

We had an amazing start to the day - we met at the source of the estuary on the Avon. They were a band of enthusiastic volunteers. It's always good to greet a group that have bonded over time. In the van - the music was blaring with some "interesting" singing in the van and best of all Alvin had brought some chocolate brownies that he had made early that morning and that was the first offering of the day - BRILLIANT!

So we started off where all walks should "talking poo" to put it politely. We were parked just beside the sewage treatment works and a pig pen homing some  lovely juicy, happy pigs! Strangely enough there was no aroma... just sleeping pigs in their pen, exhausted from their morning of eating! We talked about the catchment and water run off, sewage related debris and water quality - which is so important for this estuary - home to the "Bigbury Bay Oysters". Which I knew we might be tasting later!

As we walked down the estuary - my favourite of all in the UK. We were greeted by egrets ( invasive but beautiful) and sheldrake and other avian treats.  As we were walking down the tidal road we came across a crab moulting which was a good opportunity to talk about their amazing ability to moult their shells in order to grow. But lunch was calling and what a lunch - as it was the last of the year, the group were treated to a 3 course meal at the Oyster Shack. We had delicious oysters "pic-n-mix" and I had mussels too. It was great to know they were grown and produced and depurated so locally. In fact Richard ( the oyster owner) was lopping branches off in his garden as we walked past! And I was able to point out the depuration tanks en route to the restaurant as well.

Many of the group had never shucked, eaten or digested an oyster - but they all tried and all liked! Nobody was ill - it is not that common to be ill from well kept, well depurated (cleaned in running water for 42 hours) oysters. It was fantastic to see so many enjoy what is an overlooked and under rated delicacy from our local waters.

 Alvin enjoying his oyster!

We then trotted off with full bellies for the next part of the adventure back upstream to move on to my rockpool beach. Which obviously isn't mine - it's for everybody to enjoy!

The rockpooling was very cool! But not so cool that we were bothered when some of our feet got wet!! It was a brilliant spring low tide so we had a huge area of intertidal rocks to explore. With time and tide waiting for no man we headed down to the lowest point of the tide. We were rewarded with some amazing sights of clingfish, devil crab, montagu crab, cushion star, brittle starfish, carnivorous dog whelks and some irredescent, illuminated looking Peacock Weed - my favourite! It goes dull when taken out of the water - like so much of our marine creatures their colour and vibrancy is nothing out of the water only special when left in situ.

It was, I have to say, probably my best day yet. It was a lovely crowd, a lovely home grown meal and a fantastic low spring tide.

I feel so very lucky to live where I do and it is such an honour to be able to share it woth other people - it makes it even more special! Thanks BTCV for the brownies, laughter and being such a great crew!