The gardens and nature area adjacent to the outdoor pitch I feel are one of the corner-stones of the school, allowing me as the school’s Learning Mentor to work with children in an interesting, attractive and stimulating and important environment. It is current and well documented by health professionals and similar, how children are becoming increasingly divorced from nature and the natural world and the negative impacts this has on their health and well-being. I see the school’s garden and nature area as key assets to tackle this.
Whilst year on year the areas go from strength to strength in terms of beauty, biodiversity and productivity, this was not always the case.
When I first came to Blackley in January 2016 the area in question was little more than a lumpy and muddy building site. During the summer and autumn of the same year though, things developed apace thanks to an excellent and innovative design by the landscape architect.
By the end of the year, surrounding the pitch, the site had been expertly landscaped into a series of ridges, level areas, marsh, raised beds, paths and boardwalk. With this blank canvas the really interesting next stage could begin. This involved planting a small orchard of heritage apple and pear trees, followed by a woodland area comprising of British native trees and shrubs, eg oak, rowan, hawthorn, hazel, field maple and dog rose. Alongside these the soil was seeded with a variety of British native wild-flowers and grasses. These would be key to attract a wide variety of insects to the site.
The spring and summer of the following year would be the acid test to see how all these would grow and impact on local biodiversity. In fact, the first year of 2017 was just tremendous. Most of the trees grew strongly and the wild-flower areas proved to be a magnet for bees, butterflies and hover-flies. This allowed the children to get involved with insect surveys and nature art activities. Also, the raised beds were planted up by groups of children, with herbs, ornamental flowers and vegetables like potatoes, carrots and sweetcorn.
Subsequent years have illustrated that things have gone from strength to strength, with crops grown successfully year on year (with one or two failures!) and more and more children being involved in decision making, propagation, planting and harvest.
Since 2017 the nature area has been equally superb and it is no exaggeration when I state that this has become a key habitat for a wide range of species in the predominantly urban setting of not only the school but the wider community. Pollinators in particular do exceptionally well, with several species of bee, butterfly, hover-fly, moth and grasshopper being recorded.
Chris Jepson-Brown (Learning Mentor)