Pupils from a Nottingham secondary school will use advanced GPS technology to help protect our unique habitats — and the plants and animals that make their home there — from the effects of climate change.
Year 10 students from Hadden Park High School in Bilborough will map fragments of heathland at Sherwood Pines Forest Park as part of a research project run by The University of Nottingham for the national Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network. The project aims to raise awareness of heathland — a unique but often overlooked environment. Sherwood Pines covers 1,173 hectares, which includes 69 hectares of heathland that occurs in about 10 isolated patches.
Heathland is one of the rarest habitats in the world. The UK is home to just 60,000 hectares of lowland heathland, which is 20 per cent of the global total. In Nottinghamshire we’ve lost 90 per cent of our heathlands since the 1920s. Heathlands are now a high priority for nature conservation and a large proportion of them have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Despite this a number of heathlands are still under threat from encroachment of trees and shrubs, nitrogen pollution and fragmentation.
The students will work on the site with Dr Amy Rogers from the University’s School of Biology and Simon Roberts of the Institute of Engineering, Surveying and Space Geodesy. The ‘Mapping for Climate Change’ project will log these isolated ‘islands’ of heathland habitat. This information will then be used to develop ‘habitat corridors’ — passages of land via which the organisms living on the heathland can safely travel from one heathland site to another if threatened by the effects of climate change. The students will give their results to the Forestry Commission to aid conservation management decisions.
“The idea is to decide how best to link heathland fragments together with a corridor,” said Dr Rogers. “Habitat corridors are becoming more important with the threat of climate change, as organisms will need to move to match environmental conditions. If they are trapped on isolated islands this won’t be possible. As heathland is one of the rarest habitats we have it’s even more important that species can move to new, safe homes.”
“The Hadden Park students are very excited about visiting Sherwood Pines,” said teacher Gretchen Zoller. “Living in a city, field trips and other activities are very important for our developing biologists to see the variety of habitats that are out there.
“Working with the University provides our students with access to equipment that schools can only dream of and the benefits to the students are huge. Hopefully this project and others with Dr Rogers will encourage the Hadden Park science students to consider a career in conservation science.”
The heathland at Sherwood Pines is home to nesting nightjars — and the moths and beetles that form their diet. The nightjar is on the ‘red list’ of Birds of Conservation Concern compiled by a partnership of conservation and wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology. The habitat is also likely to be an important home to adders and common lizards, which would need to move along the ground to find new homes if their habitat was damaged.
OPAL has received a grant from the Big Lottery Fund and brings together universities and other agencies across the country, such as the Royal Parks, the Natural History Museum and the Environment Agency. The project is inspiring a new generation of nature lovers to spend more time outside understanding and enjoying the world around them.
Orchards, rivers, roadsides and woodlands are among the habitats that are being studied as part of OPAL across the UK. People are being encouraged to take part in national surveys collecting data on soils, water, air and climate. Projects will run until 2012, and information collected in the East Midlands will add to our knowledge of the UK’s natural environments and biodiversity.