Rachel Carless Project Manager at the RSPB’s Arun & Rother Connections explores the project’s work with local primary schools.

The Arun & Rother Connections (ARC) project is a landscape scale project being delivered by a partnership of seven organisations in West Sussex. The aims of the project are to:

  • Promote a rich and thriving river system
  • Protect, restore and reconnect wildlife habitats
  • Improve water quality and eliminate non-native invasive species
  • Better connect the community to the catchment, through access improvements, engagement opportunities and interpretation

The project’s education programme aims to engage many of the 64 primary schools in the 77,000 hectare project area and help them to connect with the unique rivers, wetlands, habitats and species of West Sussex.
The first two of ten river field trips were delivered in July to two primary schools at the Coultershaw heritage site in the heart of the South Downs near Petworth. The site on the River Rother includes a waterwheel, an 18th century water pump and historic buildings set around a mill pond. The children from years 4 and 6 explored the site’s history, environment and the river. RSPB field teachers, accompanied by Cultershaw Trust volunteers, led

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the sessions. The Coultershaw Trust now hopes to offer a similar programme to other local schools to meet the needs of the new national curriculum for geography.

A Horsham school sent two classes to participate in our otter and water vole outreach sessions. Led by the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Education Development Manager, the children investigated bird and mammal skulls and discovered the amazing adaptations which help otters and water voles live in the water. Pupils learned to hand saw and produce ‘mammal tracker discs’ to aid field sign identification. They also observed river features and measured river velocity at Chesworth Farm Nature Reserve.
Preparations are also underway to deliver ‘Eels in schools’, a scheme which is proving very popular nationally. Each school is provided with a tank of elvers (baby glass eels) which the pupils look after until they are ready to be released into the river. They are also provided with the resources to learn about these fascinating creatures, their environment, and the challenges they face. Karen Wallace, the author of the children’s book ‘Think of an Eel’, will come and speak to participating schools. This awareness-raising is happening alongside the installation of eel passes to assist their movement within the river system. A resource pack about these rivers, linked to the curriculum, is available free on the project website.

We are also embracing technology! We have two motion-sensor cameras available for schools to use to film wildlife on their school grounds or in their local area. Our project app and mobile website ‘ARC Explorer’ is designed to encourage families and young people to explore and record wildlife, directly contributing to conservation efforts in the region.

For more information, please contact Rachel at: rachel.carless@rspb.org.uk

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This article was first published in NAEE’s journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 110). To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.