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.

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.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Working in a Winter Wonderland

December is traditionally a festive time of year, with many festivals using lights and song to warm up the dark nights. It’s a time when people come together, provide support and celebrate. For many people it is a time to become closer to nature – by bringing conifers into their houses, adorning their mantelpieces with holly and ivy, going for wintry walks or just by playing in the snow.

On Friday 8th December, snow began falling over FSC Preston Montford, initially a brief flurry but during the course of the morning it became denser and more persistent, blanketing the fields and roads with white.
FSC Preston Montford in its snowy setting.
Our tutors were due to take Wheelers Lane, a GCSE Geography group from Birmingham, out to the remote rural towns of Minsterly and Bishops Castle. However, alert to the hazards of the conditions they re-planned their teaching to use more accessible study sites in Shrewsbury to carry out some urban geography. Shortly after setting off, it became apparent to the tutors that the road conditions were worsening and that it would be prudent to return to the warmth and safety of the centre. Once returned, Wheelers Lane were determined to make the most of their last day with us, and this snowy experience, so wellingtons and waterproofs were distributed to our ‘arctic’ explorers.

The students had a marvellous time building giant snowmen and having snowball fights around the grounds. The FSC Preston Montford education team returned to the office to do resource development and the last few things on their to-do lists before the holidays but the temptation to play in the snow was too strong and they eventually went outside to build their own snowman!
Some of the education team with their snowman 
Wheelers Lane’s coach took three hours to navigate the hazardous roads between Birmingham and FSC Preston Montford. On arrival, the coach had to remain on the lane as our drive was covered in a vast amount of snow making it completely impassable. The students were escorted down the drive by the education team. We are glad to say that Wheelers Lane eventually made it safely back home and hopefully received hot chocolates all round!
Welcome to our icy, snowy drive!
White over!

The centre was closed for the weekend as the snow reached depths of 23cm and the temperatures plummeted to -10.5 degrees Celsius at night. Sadly this meant that the Entomology day, the Shropshire Botanical Society, Growing Confidence, Aylestone College and King Henry’s VIII School all had to cancel or postpone their visits.

The whole of Shropshire was a winter wonderland and rewarded anyone who was able and daring enough to venture out into the cold. These conditions were extreme for North Shropshire, as snow only usually reaches these depths on the Shropshire Hills, and hadn’t been witnessed by local staff members in quite a few years!
Our bee hotel was safe in its sunny patch.
Our roundhouse looks like a festive grotto.

The Robins posed for a seasonal photo.
All of our ponds froze over.

A fortnight has passed since that first flurry and still patches of snow determinedly remain in some parts of FSC Preston Montford’s grounds and the surrounding fields. The roads are happily now clear. I wonder if the snow will return to us in time for the 24th and 25th December.

FSC Preston Montford wishes you a most festive time in your celebrations and best wishes for 2018!

FSC Preston Montford opens in the New Year on the 2nd January 2018. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Our 60th Anniversary Winter Festival

This month FSC Preston Montford celebrated its 60th Anniversary with a ‘Winter Festival’. We opened our doors and welcomed in over 75 people to the centre to take part in several winter-themed activities, such as wreath making, bird feeder making and winter twig identification. Some impressive wreaths and decorations were made which we are sure will brighten up your homes this festive season!
Wreath making with willow
Festive robin decoration

 We also ran tours around the centre and grounds to show everyone who we are and what we do and we had a great response to this – many people who arrived didn’t even know we existed before coming!

It was great to see so many people who are new visitors as well as returnees. We enjoyed meeting some past FSC Preston Montford tutors too and show them how their legacy has been continued forward and will continue to do so for another 60 years!

At 2:30pm, everyone gathered together and celebrated our 60 years with a speech from Adrian, our head of centre, and a cake (of course!) made by our wonderful Mihaela. This was followed by a tree-planting ceremony, with a new sequoia tree which has been very kindly donated to us by Mrs. J. Pannett, whose great, great, great grandfather used to be a groundsman here at FSC Preston Montford and whose husband used to be a tutor here too.
Our 60th Anniversary needed an extra special cake! 
Mrs. J. Pannett and her husband with the newly planted Giant Sequoia tree.

We would also like to thank everyone who made a wish on our wishing tree to say what they would like to see happen at FSC Preston Montford in the next 60 years (if you missed this or were unable to come you can still send us a message with your wish and we can add it to the tree!).

So here is to a spectacular 60 years of FSC Preston Montford and to at least another 60 years to come! Cheers!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Map-tastic Month!

We don’t know what it is about maps…we just love them! Maybe it’s the Geographer within us or maybe we just like exploring new places but the tutor team at FSC Preston Montford definitely have a soft spot for those paper diagrams. Maps help you to plan your outings, help get you back on route when you have made a wrong turn (it happens to the best of us), warn you about hazards or just how steep the hill round the next corner will be and they even make great works of art.

National Map Reading week was from the 16th to 22nd October and was a reminder of how often we use maps.

As tutors we use maps in many of our sessions, particularly during our GSCE downstream river introductions where we assess why Carding Mill Valley is a suitable location for our study and what the key characteristics are in the landscape. We guide the students to read the contour lines, use the scale and identify key symbols.

Carding Mill Valley river study.

At Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia, we use Ordnance Survey maps to orientate the students and help them to enter a magical place – one of ice ages past and a land of giants. Additionally with our A level groups, we use compasses at Cwm Idwal to calculate striation orientation.

Measuring striations.
The wild glacial landscape of Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia.

During our KS2 Stiperstones Stomp day, we encourage our young adventurers to navigate sections of the route over the heathland – taking the lead but also teaching them the importance of not leaving anyone behind. We also use maps in urban areas, to direct student to set fieldwork locations and to complete land use mapping on tablets. Many of our evening sessions use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to geolocate data and allow for analyse in relation to the surrounding environment.

Stiperstones Stomp route card - Part 1 of 4.
One of many rocky outcrops surrounded by purple heather on The Stiperstones.
We use maps on all of our Site Working Information Cards (SWICs), which are site specific risk assessments. The maps help direct people to the site, identify key hazards and hold important emergency information. The tutor team, including our associate tutors, carry copies of relevant SWICs when we are offsite. You can find many of them via the following link: http://www.field-studies-council.org/centres/prestonmontford/learn/schools/info-for-teachers/our-risk-assessments.aspx.

Finally, we use maps on our days off too. Many of the FSC Preston Montford team enjoy walking in their free time, two of our tutors have separately completed long distance walks in the last 18 months– the Jurassic Coast and the West Highland Way. One of us is an orienteering competition participant, one seeks out new places to wild camp, several of us have undergone Mountain Leader or Hill & Moorland training and a few of us enjoy recycling old maps into decorations. Collectively we have a great deal of map reading knowledge but we always seek to improve and keep our skills fresh.

Decoration created by Angela Munn.
To find out more about how you can improve your own map reading skills explore the following link: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/getoutside/guides/map-reading-week/

All images, with the exception of the Stiperstones Stomp route card - Part 1 of 4, were taken by Charlotte Timerick.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Wondrous Wildlife

Curiosity and amazement. Children have these feelings in abundance but often these feeling are harder to find as we grow into adulthood.

This month at FSC Preston Montford, we have been embracing our inner child and have been rewarded with many wonderful wildlife sightings. It all began when a member of the Head Office team found five young hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) wandering around our wildlife garden in daylight. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, only exploring at night, and as such it was curious that they should be out in daylight. A large female hedgehog had been found dead nearby earlier in the week, sadly likely to be the young hoglets’ mother. The local wildlife rescue centre was contacted for advice and they asked that the young hedgehogs be brought to them, as they were unlikely to survive on their own. We are happy to say that the hoglets seem to be doing well at the wildlife rescue centre and will stay there until they are either large enough to be released for hibernation or until next spring.
Hoglets taken by Charlie Bell
Hedgehogs are currently in rapid decline in the UK. If, like us, you discover a hedgehog out in daylight, something is wrong and please contact your local wildlife rescue centre for advice. In addition, if you have hedgehogs in your garden please be aware that you can give them cat food but they are lactose intolerant and cannot drink cow’s milk – they would prefer a lovely saucer of fresh water to wash down those delicious insects thank you.

Our next wildlife sighting was a Devil’s Coach-Horse Beetle (Staphylinus olens), noticed in the Exploratorium, our lovely wildlife garden, by a teacher from Hill House. This insect, as well as having a great name, is a predator of fly larvae, smaller insects, spiders and slugs. It loves decaying matter and hiding in the leaf litter. If disturbed, the Devil’s Coach-Horse beetle will rear up like a scorpion and can give a painful bite (1), ouch!
Devil's Coach-Horse Beetle taken by teacher from Hill House.
Our final amazing wildlife spot of the month was a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). This majestic bird was found sitting atop a pigeon in the back field – we like to think that it was feeling proud of its self and its achievement!

Haven’t lost you curiosity and amazement for our fantastic wildlife? FSC Preston Montford has lots of courses to help you – from Identification of Macrofungi, to Darwin's Garden Earthworm ID Weekend, to Great Crested Newts, Licensing and Mitigation and Centipedes and Millipedes – and our programme for 2018 will be available soon.

(1) https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/a-z-of-a-wildlife-garden/atoz/d/devilscoachhorse.aspx