Chris Baker arrived in August 2016 to take up a new teaching position as Head of Science at The British School, Bucharest. He discovered a Science Garden. He saw a ‘Rewilding Zone’!
When I arrived in Bucharest, my first idea was to reinvent the Science Garden and with that in mind I put forward three requests.
- To take the goldfish out of the pond so that macroinvertebrates could flourish.
- To take out every other pine tree, given they were planted very close to one another and prevented sunlight from reaching the ground.
- To replace the non-native ornamental flower bed with native wildflowers.
Unfortunately and for understandable reasons these three requests could not be taken further. The Science Garden located at the front of school and next to the on-site café is enjoyed in its current state by parents and students alike. The coniferous plants attract nesting long-eared owls and small flocks of goldcrest are regularly seen around the campus.
However, I was offered an alternative space behind the football pitch where we would have more freedom to make changes as well as enjoying all that the Science Garden had to offer. The prospect of having our own outdoor space where students could carry out investigations without worrying too much about making a mess was a real bonus. A place set aside for digging soil, pulling up flowers for dissection and looking under bark was becoming a reality.
Let the rewilding begin!
So in January 2017, the ‘Rewilding Zone’ was created. An area approximately 15 x 20m2 (a little less than a 5-a-side football pitch) that was previously used to store maintenance equipment. It was roughly the same size as the Science Garden and had enough space to become an interactive learning environment. We put in a workbench and a small pond, took out a couple of trees and cut back those remaining to reduce shade. As a result of sunlight and the zone not being cut for a few months, the grass grew taller and flowers emerged, which by June had attracted three species of bee and lots of Burnet Moths. Last term members of the Bird Club helped to sow wildflower mix and ‘bird’s foot trefoil’ so hopefully come April 2018 we will see a good variety of pollinators for the Nature Club to identify and learn more about.
There have been a couple of set backs throughout the year that included the maintenance team unfortunately cutting the grass by mistake, while over the summer holidays iron sheets were stored in the area which blocked out light and caused die-back. Any uneasiness over the untidy nature of the area seems to have subsided and it is has been a pleasure to see the primary school also making use of the area to expand their outdoor learning curriculum, including collecting fallen leaves in Autumn.
The school maintenance team have kindly dumped and spread collected leaf litter from around school to add to the soil layer and provide organic material for decomposers such as fungi and bacteria (possibly hedgehogs too), as well as piling up ten felled logs that have already attracted fungus.
The Nature Club will design an information board outlining species they have identified in the ‘Rewilding Zone’, of the kind typically seen when entering a national park.
This is ‘rewilding’ on a very limited small scale. Some would argue it isn’t actually rewilding at all – perhaps a Habitat Restoration Zone? But it spreads the word and the idea and leads to some interesting questions: are sown wildflowers truly wild? The pollinators (particularly bees) that they attract certainly are. Regardless, the site will serve its purpose in teaching pupils about the science behind ‘rewilding’ and how we can attract greater diversity to an area by giving a little helping hand before stepping back.
The right environment
Given the right environment, species that were once excluded from an area can return carrying ecosystem functions along with them – whether this is the red squirrel, lynx, burnet moth or Prunella vulgaris, the flower seen here feeding a buff-tailed bumblebee. Not to mention the students’ sheer joy and wonderment that goes along with observing a previously absent species and observing the effects of their presence.
Many of the ideas behind ‘rewilding’ are not new but the concept as a whole is. My spellcheck wants to change the word ‘rewilding’ to rewinding but I think calling our new area the ‘Rewilding Zone’ is wholly appropriate.
Chris Baker – Head of Science
The British School – Bucharest
Further Reading: When “oops” becomes “awesome”
Picture taken by Mihai Petre