Evolution explored at Martin Mere Wetland Centre

Date Posted: 26/03/2015

Year 5 and 6 pupils from Ashbridge Independent School, in Preston, visited Martin Mere Wetland Centre, one of the country’s nine Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) sites as part of a new Science unit called Evolution and Inheritance.

The conservation charity preserves essential wetlands and this year marks a milestone for Martin Mere, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The pupils were captivated by the trip to the 350-acre reserve near Ormskirk that is home to thousands of species of wildlife – including rare and endangered birds, otters and beavers – and is particularly renowned for the thousands of migratory wildfowl that visit each year. It offers a variety of learning sessions and resources for school visits.

Tailoring trips to topics

Arthur Wood, the deputy head teacher of Ashbridge Independent School who designed the visit to link with the new Science unit, explained: “Martin Mere is well known to me, as I have visited many times with my family. However, I have never led a trip to Martin Mere. It is an extensive site which has seen year on year improvements over the past six years.

“At Ashbridge we are fairly well connected to our environment, having animals on site, a working garden and a weekly Forest School session for all children, but nothing could have prepared me for the connection with the natural world which happened on our visit to Martin Mere.

“With Evolution and Inheritance being a new topic, opportunities were restricted for educational visits so I decided to design my own. Personally, I like trips which involve being outside and do not merely replicate the classroom at school for a classroom in another building.”

Global collection of birds

He said Martin Mere’s global collection of birds, in particular the new Weird or Wonderful area dedicated to birds that have evolved unique features which make them stand out, provided an outstanding opportunity to develop the subject of adaptations.

For example, the reserve is home to hooded merganser ducks. The flamboyant males of this species compete to be the ones chosen by the females to father ducklings. Martin Mere also has bar-headed geese, which have specially developed hearts and lungs that enable them to fly at high altitudes over
the Himalayas.

First-hand experience for pupils

Wood carried out preliminary visits to develop materials and resources for the November self-guided visit related to the new topic. Pupils were greeted by learning manager Chris Whitehead and the morning was spent observing migratory birds and visiting the Weird or Wonderful area. After lunch and an obligatory session at Martin Mere’s new adventure playground, the afternoon was spent visiting bird hides.

“Martin Mere offers an amazing opportunity to observe all kinds of birds and this first-hand experience is so important,” said Arthur. “Martin Mere very kindly provided a class set of binoculars so every pupil was enabled to be a ‘real’ bird watcher for the day. The highlight for me was seeing pupils completely absorbed in one of the hides watching wild birds, they were totally engaged in the learning and consumed by the experience.

“From the pupils’ perspective, the best part of the day included visiting the Weird or Wonderful area, where they all had particular favourites, and birdwatching. The visit achieved more than it set out to, and will be remembered for a long time by the pupils.”

WWT is now in the process of formulating Evolution and Inheritance sessions for other schools.

For more information call 01704 895181 or visit www.wwt.org.uk.

School Travel Organiser's Guide