Cheetah at Okinjima Conservancy, Namibia
Biology Matters is the web site for Dr Clive Nuttman. I am a biologist currently working as a freelance environmental educator. I have many years experience working with people of all ages and backgrounds, from primary school children to representing an NGO in corporate partnership work with a FTSE 100 company. My academic career includes teaching through lectures, seminars and practical work, as well as presenting scientific research to peers.
My research embraces work in tropical and temperate ecosystems, having undertaken studies in rainforests (Costa Rica, Ghana), savannah (Kenya), Mediterranean (Greece, Israel), and desert (Egypt) biomes. From 2004 to 2015 I worked at Cambridge University, organising and teaching on 34 scientific field training courses for international graduate students in Borneo, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda.
Over the past few generations, people – especially children – have become increasingly remote from nature and our immediate physical surroundings. Childhood has become a largely indoor experience. The latest research shows that ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ is part of a genuine trend that affects the lives of our children, spanning behavioural and mental health issues, physical problems such as obesity, and a failure to assess risk in their, and other’s, environment. Providing environmental education enables our children to reconnect with the natural world.
George’s Barn, at the Elham Valley Line Trust Railway Museum and Countryside Centre, is a perfect setting for outdoor learning. Nestling below the glorious North Downs near Folkestone, the site offers a safe and secure location for outdoor education. Grass banks, flower meadows, and a small wooded area with pond are complemented by nature trails and access to footpaths including the Elham Valley Way and the North Downs Way. Further attractions include working crafters in George’s Barn, a museum dedicated to the now closed Elham Valley railway line, a model layout of the nearby Eurotunnel complex and much more.
In 2012, to enhance their educational work, the Elham Valley Line Trust created their own version of ‘a tangled bank’ – one source of Charles Darwin’s inspiration for ‘On the Origin of Species’ – as an environmental educational amenity. Using the natural contours of the disused railway embankment, a team of volunteers created pathways that criss-cross an area that is being restored to a natural state. This has been achieved through a policy of ‘what will be will be’, combined with careful management; allowing re-colonisation by plants and animals from the surrounding chalk grassland and meadow habitats, supplemented by carefully chosen native grass and wild flower seed mixes.
Walks and Trails
The ‘Tangled Trail’ has been created to encourage interactive use of the area by visitors; local artist Annie Begley has produced ceramic sculptures of the flora and fauna found on the bank. Eighteen sculptures are hidden around the site and a printed map of the trail is available, together with coloured stickers to add when each piece is found.
The ‘Learn about the Landscape Trail’ extends into the surrounding field. Information and interpretation boards set into carved oak panels give detail about the various landscape features and the environmental heritage of the nearby North Downs.
The Countryside Centre is an ideal place to access walking routes. Links to the North Downs Way, Elham Valley Way and Saxon Shore Way offer spectacular walks through the local countryside. I lead natural history walks to explore the flora and fauna of the local landscape and enjoy the stunning scenery of the surrounding area.
The Elham Valley Line Trust Railway Museum and Countryside Centre now hosts regular art and wildlife clubs and school visits that stress the importance of the natural world through a series of ecology, art and natural history workshops, in addition to the attractions of the well-established Railway Museum and the educational opportunities that it provides.
A full programme of educational sessions covering railway and transport history (including social and rural aspects), geography and geology, science and nature, and creative workshops (art and clay work) is available. School visits are welcome – learning elements that can be incorporated include:
- Maths – counting, measuring, shape and space (KS1); handling data (KS2); handling data and using statistics (KS3); presenting data (KS4)
- Art & Design – visual aids, observation, creativity (drawing and model-making) (KS1); 3-dimensional form (sculpture) (KS2)
- English – speaking, listening, reading & writing (All KS)
- Science – exploring living things (KS1); life processes, the environment, green plants (KS2); organisms, behaviour, environment (KS3); adaptation to the environment, evolutionary changes (KS4)
My recent involvement in the Canterbury Primary Science Partnership highlighted the opportunities to work in schools to enhance environmental education. Working with local artist, Annie Begley, we have developed resources and activities that combine nature and art to augment science teaching at local schools and at the Elham Valley Line Trust site.
Half and full day sessions and workshops that link to National Curriculum and Key Stage requirements include topics such as: ‘bioblitz’ days, plants, pollination, skeletons and locomotion, life cycles, jungle explorers. I have also worked with school science leaders to develop ideas for using their ‘green spaces’ for outdoor learning.
These activities have been delivered for the following primary schools:
- Bridge & Patrixbourne
- Harcourt, Folkestone
- Junior King’s School, Canterbury
- Morehall, Folkestone
- Mundella, Folkestone
- St Eanswythe, Folkestone
- St John’s, Canterbury
- St Peter’s, Canterbury
- St Thomas, Canterbury
Secondary school talks and sessions have included:
- Brockhill Park School
- Folkestone Girl’s School
- King’s School Canterbury
"The Reception and Year 1 children from our school were totally immersed in the range of interesting activities you arranged for them. They especially enjoyed the pond dipping and the walk through the woods! The outing was educational and provided the children with opportunities of new experiences. "
Mundella Primary School
"We have had a fabulous day at George’s Barn and The Tangled Trail: a truly memorable experience! We really appreciate all the hard work and planning that went into making the day run so well with such a variety of experiences. We can’t wait for our next visit! "
Elham Primary School
"The children had a fantastic time... the children really enjoyed all of it, but in particular the sculpture trail……teachers have said they thought the life cycles part was great, good links with our science curriculum. "
Hawkinge Primary School
"Just to let you know just how much our Reception Class and our Year 6 Class really enjoyed the whole experience when we came to visit Peene (George’s) Barn. They loved all aspects of the trip, from the chance to get creative with the clay to the exploration of nature, with the pond dipping and the bug hunt. They learnt so much and we were able to use what they had learnt at school in a very cross-curricular way. Thank you for a wonderful curriculum-enriching trip. We would gladly recommend it to other schools. "
St Eanswythe’s Primary
"We just wanted to say a huge thank you for the workshops you both delivered over the past two weeks; they were excellent! From a teacher’s perspective though it was great to have so many objectives for their unit of work covered in a day from someone with specialist knowledge. I personally learnt a lot and really enjoyed the beak investigation. The same applied for art and I hope to be able to apply the techniques to my own teaching of art and design. "
Bridge & Patrixbourne Primary School
"Thanks again for all your hard work, the children loved the science morning. "
Bridge & Patrixbourne Primary School
For any further information or to discuss school visits and workshops, talks and presentations, guided walks and any other requirements, contact Clive Nuttman.
With thanks to Heather Morgan© and Annie Begley© for photography