Sat with a year 6 group watching sand martins return to the river’s eroded bank, swooping around picking freshly hatched riverflies from the air. One girl leans to her friend to say “I could watch these all day. I’m going to come down here at the weekend.” At that moment, a huge grin spread across my face! That’s what our education programme is all about – reconnecting, and in some cases for the first time connecting, the next generation with their local rivers. It is only through forging and nurturing deep connections with their local river that they and their rivers will get the mutual benefits that each can offer to the other.
This year, the Ribble Trust’s ‘Rivers in the Classroom’ programme has directly engaged with over 500 children from 17 schools across the catchment. We hope that these experiences have helped the children to build a closeness to the wildlife of their rivers and feel the joy they can get from this. Through the programme, we have also provided opportunities for them to see, first-hand, how river systems function naturally alongside problems that threaten this balance. This helps them to form a deeper understanding of how we humans are part of this system and the consequent effects of the actions we choose. We hope that this, combined with seeing how easy it is to get to their local river and enjoy it safely in future, will set them up to appreciate and conserve this important part of our ecosystem well into the future.
The effects also ripple out much further, with many of these children sharing their own ‘Rivers in the Classroom’ experiences in sessions for other children in their school. Some have even linked to other schools and nurseries for this. We have also developed new, hands-on, resources and expanded the suite of activities that we offer to school groups. The experience for the children that we’ve worked with this year has, once again, been greatly enhanced by a team of fantastic volunteers. So, we’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to all those involved!
Venturing into a new area… 11 of the 12 schools that we have been working closely with for the first time this year are in the Lower Ribble sub-catchment. One of the main problems facing this area is faecal matter, which comes from a multitude of sources. By connecting children with their river and its wildlife, enabling them to discover the local challenges facing their river and what they can do at home to help, our aim here has been to inspire children to become champions for their river and take actions at home that will lead to healthier river systems and consequently cleaner bathing waters.
We have also given all the children that we’ve worked directly with in this area the opportunity to enter our ‘Mission: River Protect’ competition by spreading the word to friends and family at home about what amazing things they have chosen to do to show their river some love. We can’t wait to see what they get up to!
After visits to their local brook, two of the schools have also decided to tackle another very visual problem facing their river: litter. As well as making it a better habitat for wildlife, they are hoping that this will help other local people to enjoy and take care of their rivers. It is amazing what a difference they have made to their local stretches of river and the impacts will be felt much further downstream too. When I’ve joined students from Sir Tom Finney Community High on their clean-ups by Eaves Brook, they’ve said how much they enjoyed the excuse to spend time near their brook and we are delighted that they are going to continue these regular clean-up river visits. After giving their local patch a little further down Eaves Brook a spring clean, children from Holme Slack Primary in Preston also brought their parents along to see the brown trout, that they had reared in their classroom, being released.
Another highlight was St Matthew’s Primary being joined for their fish release by children from Ashbridge Day Nursery, who they had written stories about their trout for, including ‘How the Brown Trout got its Spots’. We loved reading these and the letters and poems from other schools in the office too!
It has also been fantastic to have the support of the Preston Park Rangers for many of these schools’ visits to the river, making areas accessible to the groups and sharing the wealth of their local knowledge.
“It will create shade, and when the trees drop leaves the invertebrates can eat.” explained George, from year 4. “It will protect habitats.” added his classmate, Charlie. These are just some of the many benefits that the new woodlands, created this winter with the help of local school children, will give to the river. The Fisheries Improvement Project, made it possible for children from an urban school in Burnley to link up with a rural school on their river visits to improve the river and adjacent habitats while discovering how they can enjoy them in the future.
50 children and their teachers from three schools planted over 500 trees on the banks of Cow Hey Brook near Bashall Eaves. The children discovered the many benefits that their trees will bring to the stream and the wildlife it supports. Cow Hey feeds into Bashall Brook where the children also got hooked on angling with many proudly making their very first catch and enjoying the opportunity to see the river’s hidden wildlife up close. All our junior tree planters were also given a map of how to find their woodland on the Public Right of Way and are excited to bring their families to see how their trees flourish.
The activities mentioned in this post have been made possible thanks to funds from the Heritage Lottery, United Utilities, Greggs Foundation and Environment Agency.
If you are from a school interested in finding out more about our education programme, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.