The last 6 months have been an eventful time for both the animal kingdom and the East Scotland Sea Eagle Schools' project, what with bitterly cold northerly winds for weeks on the end, the infamous 'Beast from the East' and more recently the hottest, driest June on record for some time.
'Spring trying it's best despite the harsh winter conditions' Photo Credit: S.RasmussenJust as the wildlife had to adjust to the ever changing environment and weather patterns, so too did the 561 children who visited Tentsmuir NNR to learn about the life cycle and behaviour of Europe's largest bird of prey; the white-tailed eagle.
'Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve; a popular hunting ground for sea eagles' Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
Fortunately the weather only effected a couple of trips, which were rescheduled later in the year, and the intrepid explorers wrapped up (or slopped on the suncream) to explore what makes Tentsmuir NNR a special place for wildlife.
'Kinglassie Primary School exploring the dunes' Photo Credit: S.RasmussenPrimary pupils from Perth and Kinross, and Fife learned about the behavior and physiology of the local sea eagles by getting involved in a variety of activities, such as working as a team to build a life size nest, feeling what it was like to be a hunted rabbit in a game of predator and prey, and measuring themselves against a replica life size white-tailed eagle.
'Nestmates -McLean Primary School' Photo Credit: S.RasmussenPupils also spent time tuning in their superior eagle sense of sight to explore the woodland habitat in more detail. Children were challenged to find natural objects that represented pairs of words such as spiky and smooth, fragrant and smelly, or dead and alive.
'Nature's Opposites' Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
They quickly discovered that the heathland was a great place to discover cinnabar moths, snails and flowering gorse.
'Cinnabar Moth' Photo Credit: S.RasmussenFurther challenges included creating a natural paint palette, making bark rubbings to represent the scaly talons of the sea eagle and using microscopes to zoom in their eye sight up to 10x like an eagle, to see wee critters on the forest floor.
'Nature's Palette' Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
The exploration didn't end there. A feeding station installed by the Forestry Commission (responsible for the management of the forest) made a great focal point for exploring one of Tentsmuir's most famous inhabitants; the red squirrel. There were plenty of feeding signs and it was encouraging that pupils were already aware of the threats posed by non-native grey squirrels to our native red population.
'Red Squirrel Feeding Signs' Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
There were discussions about squirrel pox, habitat competition, the positive relationship between an increasing pine marten and red squirrel population, and even the reasons behind trapping and dispatching greys.
'Topping up the feeders' Photo Credit S.Wright (Wormit Primary)
Groups then explored what it was like to live as a squirrel by taking part in a 'mirror walk', switching their view of the ground for one of the tree canopy as they walked through the forest.
'Getting ready for the red squirrel mirror walk' Photo Credit: S.Wright (Wormit Primary)The afternoons' explorations continued by getting into the mind of an incubating sea eagle. Pupils were challenged to sit quietly and tune in their senses of sight and sound to record all that could be heard or seen during a 15 minute solo sit spot. Pupils picked a place away from everybody else and allowed the noises of the class to settle, until all that could be heard were the sounds of skylark from the dunes, the cheeky chaffinches seeking out crumbs left from pack lunches and even the sound of the sea in the distance. Needless to say it was usually the favourite part of each visiting teacher's day.'Sit Spot' Photo Credit: S.Rasmussen
Finally pupils were given the chance to create their own National Nature Reserve. Each group was given a rope to pick an area that they found interesting, and then were challenged to create a variety of habitats that would be good homes for nature (and for people). We had everything from aerial walkways for squirrels and birds, a snail sanctuary and even a dragon's cave complete with a Viking saga to go with it!
'Mini Nature Reserve' Phot Credit: S.Rasmussen
It has been another fantastic season, packed full of learning, discoveries and curious questions. It has been great to hear about some of the schools taking their new role as sea eagle ambassadors further, by writing to the current minister for the environment Roseanna Cunningham, to ask for further protection of our magnificent white-tailed eagles.
'Abernethy Primary, one of 20 schools to visit Tentsmuir NNR' Photo Credit: L.Hepburn (Abernethy Primary School)
A huge thanks must go to the fantastic team of volunteers who have given their time and endless enthusiasm to the project and helped inspire the next generation of wildlife guardians. Further thanks must also go to Forest Enterprise Scotland who very kindly co-funded the project to allow schools to access free transport, and the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage for once again hosting us in what must be one of the best nature reserves in the country.
'Tentsmuir NNR' Photo Credit: S.RasmussenPerhaps you will be inspired to explore Tentsmuir forest this summer too - who knows what wildlife surprises are in store? You can find out more here; https://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/tentsmuir