About Me

My photo
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.

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Young Darwin Scholarship 2017

Young Darwin Scholarship
by Sophie Kitching and Adam McKay
For a week this summer, fourteen young people arrived at Preston Montford for a crash course about the Shropshire countryside. From all four corners of the UK, we had an eclectic variety of interests, ranging from moths and birds to generalists. What we had in common was a natural curiosity and a shared passion for the natural world, in all its shapes and forms, as Darwin did.

When we discovered that we’d been offered places on the scholarship, our squeals of excitement could surely be heard as far away as Shropshire. We were also all slightly apprehensive, of course: would everyone else be able to distinguish the 1,850 species of micro moth? Would they know the difference between a Sciurius vulgaris and Calluna vulgaris

Over the week, along with copious quantities of cake, we consumed a huge variety of knowledge (and a Harvestman!). We hiked across the beautiful myth-imbued landscape of the Stiperstones, canoed along the rather muddy River Severn, and sniffed mink poo on a stick – in case you were wondering, it smells as foul as you’d expect. There was a long list of highlights, including kingfishers on the river, a surprise encounter with a buzzard, a little egret and otters caught on the camera trap. It would be ignorant to not acknowledge the fact that we also saw great crested newts (don’t worry, we didn’t disturb them). When reflecting on the experience, we think of one word-  AWESOME!

As well as being great fun, we all learnt a huge amount over the week, over a wide variety of subject areas. We were fascinated to identify and study springtails in considerable depth, which was a first for many of us. We also gained an insight into botany, learning how to write floral formulae while munching on a surprisingly tasty sorrel leaf. Particularly compelling was learning to distinguish different species of bats from the frequency of their echolocation. Other mammal spots included bank voles, wood mice and a common shrew, all of which were caught using Longworth traps, and of which we were taught to identify the sex.

In essence, it was rewarding, fun, and provided a wealth of indispensable experience. Meeting and learning from inspiring experts was something very special, but equally important was the chance to meet and learn from other enthusiastic and knowledgeable young people our own age. 

If you’re interested in ecology, geography, biology, geology, conservation, zoology or the future-of-our-planet-ology, then you should definitely apply to come on the Young Darwin Scholarship programme. You never know, you might be the next Darwin!

Monday, August 21, 2017

The summer holidays are here!

The summer holidays are a particularly interesting time for us in the education team. Schools are enjoying their break, so our warm summer days are spent leading a variety of different groups to locations that we unfortunately only get to visit occasionally during the rest of the year.

Getting close to nature!
Summer 2017 has been a whirlwind of outings and sessions: Our Family Wildlife Safari group have just left (having spent the week hunting for the “Big 5” creatures in various tranquil and scenic locations all around Shropshire), the Young Darwin Scholarship group are in next week for an action packed residential and the Secret Hills walking holiday gets underway.

Last week we had a new group – the “Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Biodiversity and Conservation residential”. A group of 16/17 year olds who didn’t know each other came to FSC Preston Montford to learn more about biodiversity and conservation, and also to improve their social skills. The group spent the week getting to know each other, whilst we guided them around the county in a variety of tasks from surveying Darwin’s childhood garden to bracken bashing with the National Trust and a Spider identification workshop here at FSC Preston Montford. Keen photographers took part in a photo competition, with some brilliant results (see below!). Knowledge was built up and all left with new friends – a great week that will also help them complete their Gold DofE!

Three brilliant competition photos
Good times have been had by all, with many memories being made! The life of an FSC tutor is certainly a varied one!

We are looking forward to the return of our regular programme in September when the first of the next wave of school groups return to our door. If you are interested in exploring Shropshire with us next summer, then book yourself onto one of our summer courses – we’re certainly looking forward to them!

Jonathan Calcraft, Education Team

For more information about the courses offered at FSC Preston Montford please go to http://www.field-studies-council.org/centres/prestonmontford.aspx, alternatively please contact us on enquiries.pm@field-studies-council.org or telephone us on 01743 852040.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wild and free!

“All good things are wild and free” – Henry David Thoreau. A quote I took to heart when I look back on my 30 Days Wild Challenge and discover that many of my challenges made the most of the simple pleasures in life that we take for granted every day.

In June, The Wildlife Trust challenged everyone to do one thing every day, for the entire month, that brought a little bit of nature into their lives. I began on the 1st June by creating my first ever hanging basket, to adorn the outside of the FSC staff cottage. The basket was already there, along with half a bag of compost, and I had listened in to a free “How to create the perfect hanging basket” talk at my local garden centre the month before. So, with a newly purchased liner and an inexpensive tray selection of flowers, I set to after work to make my masterpiece. I found it fairly easy to cut the liner and poke the small plants through (wrapping newspaper around the stems to help ease them through and protect them from damage), arranging them nicely and as my mum would say, balanced. Now came the watering. Well, as anyone who has ever watched the council watering hanging baskets around the country knows, water goes in the top and pours out the bottom. In my case, I poured water into the top of the basket, which was above eye level, for a minute or two before realising that not of drop of it was escaping out of the bottom. Concerned, I unclipped the basket and realised to my horror that I had flooded the plants! I tipped out the excess and prayed that my basket of flowers would still be alive the next morning. I am glad to say that it was none the worse for wear for its short time as a pond and is still blooming over a month later.

The hanging basket blooming at the end of June.
Newly planted hanging basket on the 1st June.
The flower hidden in the Ironbridge.
My role as an FSC Tutor gave me lots of opportunities to welcome nature into my life each day and the challenges allowed me to focus on all the little things that make Preston Montford and Shropshire great! I spent a day looking up at the sky, discovering that we have multiple House Martins nests in the eaves of our buildings – the chicks started to fledge at the beginning of this week – and that broadleaf trees really are very pretty when you stand underneath them and look up. I spent one lunchtime on the lawn behind Darwin brushing up on my grassland identification skills with a selection of FSC Field Guides…Did you know that there are three different types of Buttercup? I spent many other lunchtimes munching my sandwiches with groups in areas of outstanding natural beauty. I searched out the flower hidden in the Ironbridge and created my own Green Art flower out of fallen willow leaves. I was lucky enough to unearth a newt whilst practicing my fire lighting skills ready for a KS2 group that I was down to teach. Whilst teaching A Level Biology at the middle pond of the Wetland Ecosystem Treatment (W.E.T.) System I was upstaged by a mass of tiny cute frogs…cue all of us trying to rescue them from the path and put them into the undergrowth next to the pond – Biology in action! 

Bushcraft skills.

Identifying buttercups and other grassland species.
Not all of my wildlife experiences fell into my lap, or surrounded my feet. On a couple of occasions I took my 30 Days Wild challenge out into the night to see what I could discover. Another tutor and I set up our camera trap to see if we could capture a video of a badger. It was very exciting heading out to collect the camera the next morning, however, our mood soon turned to disappointment when we realised that the camera hadn’t even recorded us setting up the trap…complete fail! Badgers were not going to be my forte in June, as later in the month, whilst trying to find a suitable spot to sit and watch a badger sett, my friends spotted the black and white mammal whilst I was being attacked by a swarm of flies! However, I found my wild calling in life when I sat in on the Identification of Bats course at FSC Preston Montford and participated in a dusk survey. We’d had limited success detecting bats around the centre and it was time for me to leave to carry out my night duties. As I was walking back to the centre alone my bat detector emitted the clicks of a pipistrelle bat. I turned my eyes skywards to see several black silhouettes swooping and diving in a clearing in the trees. I was mesmerised and had chills all over, I knew that I was witnessing a magical event right on my doorstep.

One Shropshire location that repeatedly provided inspiration for my wild challenges was the wild ridge of The Stiperstones. I walked a route across the majority of the ridge approximately six times during the entire month with KS2/KS3 groups. Navigating the way in glorious sunshine and in wet misty drizzle! We admired the beautiful patchwork landscape, listened to the sounds of nature, completed the walking tradition of placing a rock on a stone pile known as a cairn, lay down in the Whinberry (Bilberry) for a well earned rest – I recommended it, it’s a very comfy experience - and shared the folktale of Wild Eric and Godda. 
One of my favourite moments...me surrounded by misty drizzle at St Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle, near The Stiperstones.

My first harvest of french beans!
Since moving into the FSC staff cottage I have discovered an enjoyment for gardening that I never knew existed. I hated being taken round garden centres as a child! I decided to embrace the FSC value of sustainability and have a go at creating a vegetable patch. With the help of a responsible adult, my dad, I straightened the original wood around an existing mini ‘allotment’. Then set to the tiring, but rewarding task, of double digging the entire patch. Recycling an old rabbit run to protect my veggies from Peter and his friends, I planted or sowed seeds of a few of my staple vegetables – onions, parsnips, radishes and dwarf French beans. To finish off, I covered the run in netting to protect from areal predators and encircled it with organic slug gel. Satisfied that my young food plants/seeds were safe from being eaten by anything other than me or my housemates, I then stood back to admire my hard work. I am happy to inform you that on irregular inspection I have only had to evict one slug and that everything seems to be growing well, especially my beans!

It was difficult thinking of a challenge to end my 30 Days Wild, particularly as I only realised that it was the last day at 5:30pm! Therefore I decided to be true to my roots as a Biologist and, grabbing an open-framed quadrat, went out to ‘randomly sample’ Fran’s Meadow. This essentially involved playing outside with a camera and appreciating the beauty of what was a three minute walk away from my desk. It was both a relief to finish the 30 Days Wild, it was indeed a challenge to find something different in the natural world to photography each day, and a great sadness to finish the 30 Days Wild, as I knew that the little things in life would begin again to pass me by in my hectic life. I am endeavouring to not let the latter happen, taking time to notice and connect with my outdoor surroundings. Even if it is just looking up from my desk occasionally to soak in the greenery of the common reed dominating Darwin pond. I encourage you to take time to do the same, who knows what you may discover in doing so #StayWild.

Nymph to dragonfly adult, hanging out in Darwin pond.

By Charlotte Timerick (Tutor)

For more information about the courses offered at FSC Preston Montford please go to http://www.field-studies-council.org/centres/prestonmontford.aspx, alternatively please contact us on enquiries.pm@field-studies-council.org or telephone us on 01743 852040.