Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Beautiful Belfast Lough

The black tailed godwit
I was astonished to discover that Belfast Lough is a Ramsar site. I knew it was an ASSI, but a Ramsar site? That is an international designation with international protection. You know often we think of places which are important for wildlife as remote and pristine and untouched. But i think we can all say that Belfast Lough is something which is most certainly not like that at all. Surrounded by a city and a port and airport and industry, the place is the furthest you would expect from a place which is teeming with wildlife and YET yesterday when i went down to the shore with the children, that is EXACTLY what it was.

Part of the ML is about showing children how we live with wildlife all the time. If you do down to the Holywood foreshore, at low tide, you will see millions of shells. Millions of them. All kinds of shells. Bivalves, gastropods, barnacles... you will see seaweed. You will see, at this of the year, thousands of birds from all over the world. Birds that have flown in from the North, and i am not talking Scotland. They have come from Canada, Iceland, the Arctic. They have come here for the winter and they are feeding on our shores.

As we walked the really really still and dry seafront, we identified all the wonderful things we saw. We pointed out the birds - Curlew, Turnstone, Black-tailed Godwit, Brent Geese, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Redshank... we looked at the shells, we watched the birds scurrying back and forth along the tide line, we looked at the birds roosting. It was really magical, really, really magical. Here we were, not 1 mile from the boats and people and factories, and here were birds, just doing their thing. I do not know how many people realise this, how many people recognise what an important place this is for international wildlife.

Donning my walking jacket and binoculars, it was like being back in the RSPB. I work very closely with Kevin in this and we are both adamant that the children try and experience wildlife first hand - mostly through art and through experiencing the habitats. It is the habitat which is important. The messages come later, but to fall in love with a place means that hopefully, sometime along the way, that place becomes important to you and the wildlife that use that place becomes important too. Understanding that we have wonderful wildlife is also important - that it isn't just about tigers and lions and elephants. Our little shells and seagulls and bird visitors are just as fascinating. They are just as valued and loved. And important.

Then all this segues nicely into geography, which happens later next year. We learn about geography through habitats and habitats through geography. Land use and conservation and intimately connected. How we value where we live goes just beyond what an estate agent says it is worth.

That is one of the really great things about working this way in the school. That this is PART of the teaching the interconnection between land and life. Land IS life and if we do not understand this we have lost everything.

The weather has been incredible. It could not be MORE incredible. After a weekend of snow and showers, first there was the sunny warm day yesterday when we were doing the grounds and then today, there wasn't the slightest breeze. It was grey and still - and that is what we needed.

That is what we wanted. That is what we got.

I have said many times that the weather in Northern Ireland isn't as bad as people think it is. It isn't. There are many many dry days and there are many many sunny days. If you get out and do things outside, you will see this. But you must go outside and do things outside.

As we came back from Victoria Park, it began to rain and rain quite heavily. It did eventually clear up, but it was fantastic. Perfectly timed, again.

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