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Spreading the word: How can we help migratory birds?

This autumn, as the Flight of the Swans expedition sets off and school children begin a new academic year, WWT will be running learning sessions on migration for primary school teachers and pupils. Here WWT’s Learning Advisor, Lorna Fox, tells us all about the sessions.

Tried and tested

The Flight of the Swans expedition has already captured the imaginations of hundreds of people but in September we hope to capture the hearts and minds of teachers and pupils across the UK. We’ll be running our new learning sessions ‘How can we help migratory birds?’ at WWT London, WWT Slimbridge and WWT Martin Mere and we’ll be giving schools the opportunity to come along and take part.

To help us prepare for the launch of our sessions and to trial some of our hands-on activities, WWT visited a rural primary school in Gloucestershire on a misty morning last week. Walmore Hill Primary School opened their doors to WWT’s Learning team and Media team, with every teacher and pupil in the school involved in a full day of outdoor learning. Luckily, the low-lying mist of the morning rose to reveal a bright and sunny day, and the excitement began!

What is migration?

We walked over fields and through orchards to arrive at Walmore Common, an area of land flooded each winter and visited by several migratory birds, including Bewick’s swans. I introduced Sacha Dench as our intrepid explorer and she explained the Flight of the Swans expedition and the migratory journey of the Bewick’s swan. After a question and answer session on Sacha’s kit and survival, comparing her needs on the journey to that of a migratory bird, it was time for Sacha to get ready to fly and for the pupils of Walmore Hill Primary to take part in migration activities.

The children had the chance to demonstrate their understanding of migration, as well as work in ‘swan family’ groups to make the challenging journey from Russia to Slimbridge. Once completed, each pupil was asked to feedback on what they learnt and the fun they’d had. They told us that they’d learnt what migration was and that it was really difficult. They also told us that they’d enjoyed forming their ‘swan family’ groups. The teachers felt that the children had really grasped the concept of migration. So it was a ‘double thumbs’ up from pupils and teachers!

Taking to the skies

Once we’d carried out our migration activities, we watched Sacha take off and fly above us, the kids were very impressed. Now came the time to get dressed up! Pupils got into their white painting suits and then, with direction on the ground from me, and Sacha up in the air (with radio help from Sam, also on the ground), the pupils formed the shape of a flying Bewick’s swan, similar to WWT’s logo. Sacha took several aerial shots of everyone and then it was time to land (and take the suits off!).

With everyone standing back, Sacha landed on Walmore Common safely and the children ran over to greet her and ask her further questions about her flight, they were very excited and clearly impressed by what they had seen. And then it was time to say goodbye.

Top marks for WWT

The learning experienced from the day was fantastic, with Brett Stevenson, Executive Head at Walmore Hill Primary, stating that the experience and quality of delivery was ‘outstanding’. Every pupil had the chance to better understand migration, to put the migratory journey of different species around the world into context, and to discover the challenges these species, especially migratory birds, face when making these incredible journeys.

Flight of the Swans and Sacha’s journey brought the story of migration to life for these pupils and teachers. It provided a learning experience and day out of the classroom that they will never forget, and encouraged them to think about and act towards conserving these migratory species now and into the future.

We even had a visit from the ITV news crew, watch their report below…

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