Sometimes, all it seems to take to generate environmental awareness and concern is a walk in the woods.
At least that’s the way that Strawberry Vale elementary school teacher Kiersten Brookes tells it.
“Our project began in September with daily walks with another class to increase our fitness, our support for one another and to be aware of what is going on in our own neighbourhood,” said Brookes.
“It was about that time that, after looking at the birds in the area and doing some investigation we became aware of the extirpation of the native western bluebird to our area and heard about the rejuvenation of the population in Duncan B.C. We wondered if we could entice the western bluebirds to our local area again.”
Brookes explained that the students learned that one of the causes of the bluebird disappearance were sparrows. It seems that sparrows, an invasive species introduced to North America in the 19th century, tend to bully the native birds out of the area by taking over the nesting sites.
Intent upon bringing the bluebirds back, the students embarked on a project to construct 150 wooden bluebird houses for the park area adjacent to the school as well as for use in their own yards and the school grounds. They also committed to monitoring the bird houses to ensure that pesky sparrows didn’t move into the new nesting sites. When they discovered that vandalism of the houses became a problem, they moved into the education of the neighbourhood about the reasons for the bird houses and how important it was that the entire community help to protect the houses from destruction.
“After that, the blue bird house initiative got them to thinking about what bluebirds eat, and they discovered that some of the foods that bluebirds eat become unavailable when invasive plant species take over an area. That led us to an initiative where we started tackling some of the invasive plants in the Garry oak woodland surrounding the school,” said Brookes.
Several invasive species removals ensued and once, during the course of removing English ivy from an area, the classes even found a large black Hawthorne tree that had been so engulfed by the invasive plants that no one knew it was even there.
“It was a huge sense of accomplishment for the children to discover and rescue this amazing tree. We let it breathe again,” recalled Brookes.
The children’s environmental awareness has expanded throughout the school year and they have engaged in activities that range from the construction of bat houses (apparently bats are stressed due to lack of habitat as well), the placement of mason bee houses, raising meal-worms to attract the bluebirds and more.
“The students also decided that they needed to try to help bring the lizards, snakes, insects and plants that we are missing from our Garry oak habitat back. We need to try to rejuvenate this area to ensure species are not ousted from the competition in the neighbourhood surrounding them,” said Brooke.
“This has been a journey of discovery for the children. It’s also given them a sense of what childhood used to be like, having contact with nature … before we started spending so much of our lives looking at screens.”
Brooke took the opportunity to explain one final initiative in which the children took part.
“We changed the words to the old Beatles song ‘Blackbird’. Our version is ‘Bluebird’. The children figured that bluebirds are songbirds so maybe singing the song would attract them to our area,” said Brooke with a chuckle.
“It can’t hurt to try.”