About Me

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Shrewsbury, Shropshire, United Kingdom
FSC Preston Montford has been an outdoor classroom since 1957 and is a Field Studies Council centre. We deliver curriculum related outdoor education by the experts; from pre-school to Masters level; for infants, school students, undergraduates and enquiring adults with an interest in the natural world. Courses for schools and individuals. A venue for others to use; with bed space for 130, catering facilities and 7 fully equipped teaching and meeting spaces.

Monday, April 30, 2018

From barnacles to bees with Growing Confidence

During the Easter holidays young people from the Growing Confidence project had fun at the seaside and also spent a day at FSC Preston Montford.

The sun shone all day for Growing Confidence Project away day to meet Andy from the North Wales Wildlife Trust at Llandudno. First stop was the north beach where we spent the morning discovering who and what lives on the rocky shore when the tide goes out. Top spot was a starfish and Andy introduced us to the world of limpets, barnacles, top shells and dog whelks.

Tidal treasures
(Top: Dog Whelk, Left: Top Shell & Bottom: Periwinkle) 
Top spot: Starfish!

Following lunch, the effort of a steep walk up the Little Orme was rewarded by the amazing sight of 57 seals and pups lounging in the sun. A fantastic day at the seaside!
Later in the week a group of young people got into garden challenge mode tackling some overgrown areas of the sensory garden at FSC Preston Montford. This area is being transformed and brought back in to shape with the help of our regular gardening volunteers and Duke of Edinburgh volunteers   - find out more about these opportunities in next month’s blog. 
Weeds were removed from tyre planters and a layer of peat free compost was added to ready them for plants and seeds - we favoured nectar and pollen species such as calendula, bugle, nasturtium sunflowers and scabious.  Good use was made of damaged wellies, which were no longer suitable for use by our visitors, and fingers crossed we will have nasturtium topped wellies all summer.
Weed removal
Our newly planted tyre
Sowing seeds
Having fun planting up reused wellies.

Paper pots were made using newspaper and everyone took home a pot or two planted with sunflower seeds, which will provide a little pollinator haven in their own garden.
Planting our paper pots with sunflower seeds
Sunflowers - ready to take home 
The sensory garden is already a haven for wildlife and with the increased planting of nectar rich species it should support even further species which can be observed by all our visitor young and old. During the Growing Confidence residentials this summer for young people over 16 we will be planting more species trying to increase the length of flowering season of plants in the area.
You can find out more about the Growing Confidence project, an environmental project for young people aged 11-25, at www.field-studies-council.org/gc or you can email gc@field-studies-council.org
If you would like to know more about volunteering please contact us at enquiries.pm@field-studies-council.org  FSC Preston Montford.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Preston Montford's Plastic Progress

On the day that UK businesses pledged to eliminate single use plastic packaging by 2025, Preston Montford is pleased to report our progress on reducing our plastic footprint.

We have:
1.      Stopped selling plastic bottled drink in our shop. We now sell reuseable water bottles that visitors can refill with cold drinks from our kitchens.

2.      Changed our breakfast yoghurts from single portion pots to large pots that we serve in bowls.

3.      Replacing our milk sachets in bedrooms to a jug that can be refilled from the kitchens.
4.      Packed lunches are now wrapped in paper bags, and visitors are encouraged to bring their own reuseable packed lunch box.

5.      Fieldwork resources are no longer laminated, instead we use reuseable plastic wallets.

6.      Developing a community garden and beds to grow some of our food, reducing packaging.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

New Home for Reptiles and Amphibians!

We are proud to announce that we have a new habitat feature in our sensory garden, a hibernacula! Our Education Assistants have been hard at work, battling through the frosty January weather, to construct an underground home for reptiles and amphibians. The hibernacula will provide a place of hibernation in the winter and a place of refuge for the rest of the year. This new feature improves the habitat suitability for the many species of reptiles and amphibians we have on our site, such as the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara), slow worm (Anguis fragilis) and great crested newt (Triturus cristatus).

Completed Hibernacula

The hibernacula was made using logs, branches, bricks and other hard-core materials that would have otherwise been wasted. This habitat creation is easy to make and can be carried out by anyone!

Waste Materials
To create your very own hibernacula all you need is some space in the garden, a spade and some woody or rocky materials. The latter creates gaps or chambers for the reptiles and amphibians to shelter inside. 

Step 1: Dig a hole that’s approximately half a meter down - this can be any size or shape you like but generally no smaller than 2m length x 1m width. 

Step 2: Fill the hole with materials until it makes a mound shape approximately 0.5m high. 

Step 3: Place large concrete slabs on top of the mound or cover with a cotton sheet to prevent the next layer filling in the gaps that you have just created. 

Step 4: Place soil and turf on top of the heap to keep the rain off. Make sure the reptiles and amphibians have an entrance facing south, which can be made of wood or other materials. 

Hibernacula construction process (Top: Dig a hole, Middle: Infill with recycled materials, Bottom: Cover with cotton sheet, soil and turf)

What happens to the FSC Preston Montford hibernacula next? Our team have been covering the bare patches of soil made from constructing the hibernacula with wild flower seeds. This will not only be aesthetically pleasing, it will also increase floral diversity and create more cover for reptiles to travel. In the future we hope to monitor what goes in and out of the hibernacula with camera traps and record what species are using this space.

For more information why not take a look at our hibernacula’s interpretation boards? They explain more about the need for these unique habitats and the fascinating ecology of reptiles and amphibians.

A free map of the FSC Preston Montford estate can be found in reception – the hibernacula is located in our sensory garden, the Exploratorium.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Food for Thought

Here at FSC Preston Montford we care where our food comes from, how much carbon is produced in its making and the health of our customers. Therefore when we heard about the Soil Association’s Food for Life Catering Mark (now known as the Food for Life Served Here Award) we decided to review our culinary delights and aim for the Bronze Award.

The Food for Life Catering Mark is a set of standards to ensure that our “staff and customers know that the majority of food on the menu is freshly prepared, free from undesirable trans fats, sweeteners and additives, and is cooked by trained chefs, and use[s] ingredients from sustainable and ethical sources” (Soil Association Website). Essentially it is all about serving local, fresh and honest food!

Our "Taste of Shropshire" chalkboard is proudly displayed in our dinning room. The board shows where our fresh produce comes from within Shropshire.

To qualify for the Bronze Award we need to meet several success criteria including 75% of the food on our lunchtime and evening menus must be freshly prepared and none of the fish that we serve can be on the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) ‘Fish to avoid list’. In addition, all of our meat has to be ethically sourced and satisfy UK welfare requirements. All of our fish currently comes from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) approved sources, meaning that the fish is caught in a sustainable way leaving smaller fish in the ocean to continue to grow and breed. The catering team strongly feel that by guaranteeing the health of the animals who provide our meat and dairy products then the food they prepared will be of the highest quality for you, our customers. The staff team also like that the local economy is supported, due to our move to find suppliers closer to our centre, and that UK farmers are supported by our on-going use of Red Tractor products. The latter was especially important as Shropshire as a county has a strong farming background. Red Tractor products also affords an element of accountability as we can trace the produce back to the farm and the animal that provided the produce to ensure that it was well looked after. Furthermore, as part of the Catering Mark we can only use fresh free range eggs and all sauces and short crust pastry must be made from scratch…yes you read correctly, from scratch!

The catering team were willing to take on this challenge and put all of their culinary skills to good use. To assist them on their way to success, our chef Andy Lewendon and our Hospitality Manager Steve Duke attended a day course in Shrewsbury to find out more about the finer details of achieving the award. On their return they worked hard with their team to begin to implement the changes necessary, designing a new menu that means that everything is now prepared and cooked on site – even those uniform-looking lemon meringue pie cases are prepped by hand. They have also expanded the Vegetarian and Vegan options, trying new recipes to make low carbon choices even tastier!

Delicious lemon meringue pies made by FSC Preston Montford catering staff. 

We are now well on our way to meeting all of the criteria to achieve the Bronze Award and are just waiting for an inspection date so that we can receive our seal of approval. Watch this space for more news….

In the meantime, are there ways to improve the sustainability of the food you eat at home? Explore the links below to find out more information about the organisations and award labels mentioned in this blog.

Marine Stewardship Council Blue Fish label - https://20.msc.org/home

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reducing our Plastic Footprint

Image from Blue Planet
Many of us have been haunted by Blue Planet’s recent images of marine life struggling to survive in the tide of plastic created by our society, and also heartened to hear the UK government is considering a levy on plastic packaging.

Angela from the Education Team responded to the Marine
Before and After Landfill
Conservation Society’s “Plastic free June” Challenge in 2017, and for the last 6 months has continued the challenge and reduced her plastic landfill from half a binbag to just one handful. Check out this before and after photo! The cost of plastic free living was estimated to be only £10 extra over the experiment, so it made sense economically too.

Angela’s Story
Reducing my plastic footprint during 2017 has been really eye opening in finding alternatives to my plastic lifestyle and I thought I’d share my experiences here, as it has been life changing. I decided to start with eliminating single use plastics for landfill, and in the future hope to reduce the amount of plastic I put into my recycling box. Here are my experiences and seven tips to reducing your plastic footprint.

      1. Fruit & Veg
I found a limited amount of plastic free fruit and veg in the supermarkets, so spent a couple of weeks
Plastic Free Supermarket Shop
exploring local greengrocers, farm shops and veg box schemes. For me, local Derwen Farm Shop and Shrewsbury Market are now my go to places. Additionally, the veg patch is great for salads and seasonal fruit and vegetables that are impossible to buy without plastic wrapping.

     2.  Meat and Dairy
I take tupperware boxes to my butcher’s counter at the supermarket, whch has led to lots of interested enquiries from the butchers and the till staff, who all think it is a great idea. Derwen Farm Shop do the same with their cheese counter. My next challenges are milk (I am investigating glass doorstep deliveries) and yoghurt. My homemade yoghurt experiment was not very tasty, so more research and practise needed!
      3. Bread, Cakes and Biscuits
Homebaking has been a lovely new habit to form! Meditative kneading of dough and the smell of baking have been brilliant new additions to homelife. Another unintended consequence is that we now value these as treats, and are eating less sugary food.

      4. Store Cupboard
A local Shropshire organic farm,  Pimhill, supply many local shops with paper sacks of porridge oats so breakfast is sorted! Rice, pasta and pulses have proved tricky to source as they come in plastic single use bags. Until a zero wate shop comes to rural Welshpool, I am using boxed rice from Uncle Ben, lasagne for pasta and canned pulses. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/bulk-makert-recycling-zero-waste-first-plastic-free-market-london-hackney-a7924781.html
Shower bars of shampoo and conditioner
          5. Bathroom
LUSH shampoo and conditioner bars are expensive, but the “naked” packaging and lovely smells are worth it. LUSH also stock toothpaste powder and deodarant bars. Soaps are a good plastic free alternative to shower gel, but a small challenge to get them in card or naked packaging.
I have experimented with homemade toothpaste using coconut oil, bicarb of soda and salt, which is very effective. My bamboo
Homemade toothpaste & bamboo brush
toothbrush is also a winner, £3.95 from www.savesomegreen.co.uk
Local wholefood stores stock toilet rolls (Ecoleaf) and plastic free sanitary products (Naturecare) in corn starch biodegradable wrappings.

      6. Tea and coffee
I love using my travel mug to get my occasional fix of coffee, whilst out and about. Sometimes I’ll make it at home and it keeps hot for an hour, other times coffee shops will fill it. Buying tea and coffee without plastic packaging from the supermarkets has proved elusive, aside from herbal Pukka teas and Dr Stuart. I’ve still some research and lobbying to do with most beverage companies.

Biodegradable Christmas decorations
7. Christmas
Keen to continue my plastic free habits into the festive period, I reused wrapping paper from last year, bought gifts from charity shops and made Christmas postcards from last year’s cards. Inspired from Preston Montford’s 60th birthday open day, I made a wreath from plants in my garden and made tree decorations from natural materials (dried oranges and gingerbread biscuits)

6 months into the challenge, and I have reduced my plastic footprint to a handful of landfill per month and am enjoying the slower lifestyle associated with growing and baking. Alternative products only cost me an estimated £20 extra per year, so it makes sense economically too. If you are inspired to make some changes – try a plastic free week, month or just change one thing about your lifestyle. I warn you, it is addictive and once tried, you’ll never turn back to plastic again! For forums and further tips look on https://www.mcsuk.org/plastic-challenge/

Preston Montford's Plastic Free Packed Lunches
We already stock paper bags for packed lunch and are no longer stocking plastic bottles of drink in our shop. Instead we are encouraging our visitors to bring a lunchbox and either bring or purchase  one of our reusable water bottles.