Hundreds of South West school children have learned the importance of farming to us, the environment and our local landscapes – without even leaving their classroom.
They’ve taken part in the Kingfisher Award Scheme, an educational event which normally sees around 1,500 youngsters visiting local farms to explore the natural world and help them make connections between food, farming and wildlife.
This year however, it wasn’t possible to host the event due to Covid restrictions, so organisers created an online competition with ‘virtual’ farm field trips.
The Devon scheme is hosted each year by Clinton Devon Estates. The Estate’s Countryside Learning Officer Kate Ponting, explained: “This year the experience was very different. We would normally bring classes onto farms in May, setting the scene for the children to start their project back at school. Then at the end of term, there would be a celebration to display their work to parents and invited guests. This year these two elements had to be virtual so instead we filmed farmers and activities for the children to try.
“In school they could learn how to grow grass, how to make cheese or how to identify hedgerow and grassland plants. We sent grass seed, compost, clay and ID guides to each school and the children. The entries were also submitted virtually for the judges in each county to make their deliberations.”
Twenty eight schools from across Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Wiltshire took part, with a Kingfisher trophy and prize money going to the winner in each county.
In Devon the judges were Kingfisher Award Scheme Chair Caroline Fowle, beef and organic farmer Sam Walker and Clinton Devon Estates trainee land agent Eliza Raine.
Awliscombe Primary School in Honiton has been crowned the county’s winner. Head of School Vicky Morris, said: “The children watched the video clips and then selected their own tasks – it was all their choice and very pupil-led. They produced fact files on different plants and birds they’d discovered during hedgerow surveys, and we also made our own hay. One of the children brought in some milk from their family farm, which we then made into cheese.
“What was so lovely was that the children were able to combine subjects such as English, science, art and maths. They absolutely loved it and it gave all of them a chance to really shine.”
Kate Ponting added: “Without even meeting the teacher or pupils, we could see Awliscombe had really got into the spirit of the Kingfisher Award. Their child-led explorative learning produced great work across the curriculum. They drew on their local area to gain a greater understanding of the living landscape around them. It was wonderful to finally be able to meet the children and see them proudly showing off their work when we presented the trophy.”
The Kingfisher Award Scheme is an initiative delivered by the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and is supported by charitable donations. It was established in 1992 by the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes since then, the field days and classroom projects have benefited around 12,000 Westcountry schoolchildren.
In Cornwall, Probus Primary School near Truro was the overall county winner, while in Wiltshire, it was such a close contest the judges decided to have two winners, Wardour Primary School near Salisbury and Wilton CE Primary School. Crowcombe and Stogumber Primary School were the overall winners in Somerset.
Jacky Cherry, Cornwall Kingfisher Co-ordinator, said: “Probus Primary School were the well-deserved winners of the Cornwall Kingfisher Award 2021. The children had clearly enjoyed their outdoor learning experience and posed some excellent questions for our judges! They showed a comprehensive understanding of the theme, Our Living Landscape, and made connections with their locality.”
Outdoor learning and wellbeing in the landscape is an important driver for the school and the Kingfisher Award was enthusiastically embraced by Year Five.
Head of School, Angela Praed, said: “I’m so proud of what they have achieved, the pupils are so eager to protect the environment and value learning first-hand about the world around them.”
For the full list of entrants and judges feedback, visit https://bit.ly/3kD9v9w.