Purbeck pupils fix up new homes for hedgehogs

Hedgehogs waking up from hibernation are in for a treat at Sandford St Martin’s School, where Purbeck pupils are making homes to keep them safe, warm and well fed.

Sandford and Wareham have some of the best hedgehog populations in the whole of Dorset, thanks to the wildlife friendly habitat and a very active support group which is also looking to establish a strong presence in Swanage.

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The school’s chair of governors Melanie Bolt helps pupils build a new hedgehog home

Threats by predators, cars and pesticides

But even in Purbeck there are threats to hedgehogs from predators, cars and pesticides amongst other things, which is one reason why Sustainable Wareham and the Dorset Mammal Group are working with local schools.

At Sandford St Martin’s School, year five children are in the middle of a project to learn about the little animals and help to make the extensive school grounds as safe as possible for them.

Former pupil Shaun Colvin, who made the school’s first hedgehog home several years ago, was invited back to lend a hand as seven new nesting boxes are constructed, thanks to funding from Wessex Water and the Dorset Community Foundation.

Dorset Mammal Group volunteer Karen Naylor shows pupils how to put the homes together

“School children are really concerned”

Karen Naylor, a volunteer for Dorset Mammal Group, said:

“Hedgehogs are on the critically endangered list, but fortunately the local school children are really concerned for them and they are fantastic as agents of change.

“We have checked the school grounds for areas that hedgehogs might struggle with, such as ponds with sides which are too steep, or netting which they might get caught up in and we are aiming to make the area safer for them.

“Pupils are aware of the hazards facing hedgehogs and are now making hedgehog boxes to fit in with other areas of the curriculum like design and conservation, and it feels like these youngsters are becoming really engaged with the plight of hedgehogs.

“We are hoping to get other village schools and communities involved, and feel that this project could be something of a template which could be replicated across Purbeck and the whole of Dorset.”

Shaun Colvin and his granddad with the first of the new hedgehog homes

Fund raising for a hedgehog hospital

The children have also talked about making and selling items to help the Dorset Mammal Group raise money for a hedgehog hospital for the county, which is already about a third of the way towards its target of £85,000.

Talks are being held to secure premises near Dorchester as a centre of local excellence where vets can be taught the right skills to deal with complex injuries to hedgehogs.

Shaun Colvin, now aged 13, said:

“When I was a pupil here I made a hedgehog box with my granddad and brought it into school. I’m very interested in wildlife and do videos for my Facebook page.

“Hedgehogs are on the decline in the UK and struggle more in rural areas than they do in urban areas, where people feed them. They can cover up to two kilometres in an evening, so they need people to make sure they can get between gardens, which is why hedgehog highways are so important.

“Two things that you are not supposed to feed hedgehogs are bread and milk, but it is good to leave water out for them and they can eat cat food as well.”

Part of Sandford St Martin’s forest school, an ideal site for wildlife

Designed to be safe nesting areas

The completed hedgehog homes will be placed out in Sandford St Martin’s forest school and around the playing field boundaries, and are designed to be safe nesting areas, protect them from predators and allow them to feed undisturbed.

Sandford St Martin’s headteacher Paul Beveridge said:

“We were so pleased to engage with Sustainable Wareham and to construct hedgehog houses with our Eco Club.

“Encouraging the children to consider, look after and benefit from nature is a growing feature of our school. It was lovely to have Shaun back in school as he was our original hedgehog house builder!”

The forest school’s dipping pool, where frogs and newts make their home

Forest school is a real highlight

The forest school, which allows pupils of all years to learn outdoor skills over a six week period every year, has become a highlight of the curriculum for many children.

There is a dipping pond with newts and frogs, as well as all kinds of minibeasts for the children to find, mud kitchens, a camp fire for outdoors cooking, tree swings and nature trails among many other things.

Sponsored events have raised enough to begin work on an outdoor classroom next to the forest and fundraising in 2024 will go towards adding a compost toilet on the site as well.

Pupils are encouraged to get as muddy as they want during forest school lessons

Children can get as muddy as they like

The school’s chair of governors, Melanie Bolt, said:

“Forest school is a real highlight for the children. It can go ahead in almost all weathers – we always say that there’s no such thing as wrong weather, only the wrong clothes.

“The children can go and play in the forest, they are encouraged to get as muddy as they like and we do see a huge difference in the confidence of children after they have had their six weeks of forest school learning.

“It’s not curriculum as such, but they learn about life and it’s an exciting opportunity for children to experience nature and learn outdoor skills.

“We will at some point have an open fire, use tools, make dens, leave trails, go on scavenger hunts, make environmental art and hope to plant hedges, trees and flowers as well.”

A camp fire gives children the chance to learn how to cook food outdoors

Lessons to climb trees and build dens

Melanie Bolt added:

“Part of forest school is teaching children about risks and how to evaluate them, so the children will be taught about how to add fuel to a fire, cook and make drinks using a fire, climb trees, tie knots, build dens and use tools.

“It’s all fenced in, there are always two qualified members of staff here, activities are only introduced as the children in the group are ready for them and are always carefully supervised by an adult.

“By allowing children to take these measured risks, we help to prepare them for making choices when they are older and teach them to be actively responsible for themselves, their choices and actions.”

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