A new and exciting project, led by the Education Team at the Urban Heaths Partnership and ARC, has been running for the past 12 months with Ferndown Upper School in Dorset.

The A’ Level students involved in the project are studying Environmental Science and have been investigating the biodiversity of their local heathland site, Ferndown Common. The surveying has involved measuring the abundance of various species of heathland vegetation along with soil and environmental conditions such as light intensity and humidity.

On 12th November 2018, armed with quadrats, tape measures, soil augers, and environmental sensors, the students strode onto Ferndown Common for the second phase of their research. However, what greeted the students caused them to halt in dismay as they surveyed a black, charred landscape interrupted only by the skeletal forms of burnt gorse. Just a year ago they had been working on a site glowing with the golden colours of an autumn heath. Since then a fire had ravaged 13ha of the site and as a result the investigation had taken on a completely new direction.

Despite the obvious destruction the students were able to detect the heaths resilience as shoots of fresh young Gorse and Molinia caerula grass poked through the black crusty earth. The students chose to survey a range of locations to illustrate recovery rates and subsequent biodiversity in sites affected by very recent fires and to contrast them with historical fire sites and mature heathland. In the Spring they will to return to the site with Senior Reserve Manager, Gary Powell to study the reptiles. From their findings they hope to subsequently devise potential strategies for the future management and conservation of the site, presenting their findings and ideas to a panel of conservation experts.

The project, made possible by their enthusiastic teacher, Toby Osbourne, has huge value in terms of heathland education by allowing the students to understand the complexities of their local nature reserve as well as understanding the need for its conservation and responsible use. In turn the education team at UHP hope to work with the A’level students in conjunction with children from Ferndown First and Middle Schools on environmental engagement and education against Arson, reaching more children who will be the stewards for this site in the future.