I’ve just completed another free online course. I know, I’m a bit keen when it comes to learning. There are worse addictions I’m sure.
The course “Biodiversity and Global Change: Science and Action” is an offering from the University of Zurich on Coursera – an interesting overview of the biodiversity on planet Earth, the field of biodiversity science and some of the actions we can take to help protect biodiversity. As part of the final week of the course, I was challenged to be a Biodiversity Ambassador. What does that mean, and how did I tackle this assignment?
I’m working my way through an excellent free course on the coursera website, “Mountains 101” from the University of Alberta. It’s an interdisciplinary MOOC delving into the history, geology, ecology and even the cultural significance of mountains. Here are the key facts:
Time requirement: 12 weeks of study, 3 – 5 hours/week
User Ratings: Average User Rating 4.7
Cost: Free, with the option to pay for a certificate (45.00 EUR according to mooc-list.com)
As 2016 ended, I couldn’t help looking back. Did you know that 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the US National Park Service? It was also the 50th anniversary of the UK’s Countryside Management Association, so I thought it would be worth looking back at the history of National Parks and the CMA, and considering how parks and the Ranger role have developed. In this post i’ll be looking at the rise of National Parks.
The world’s first National Park as we know it was Yellowstone National Park in the United States, created in 1872. When Yellowstone National Park was created, the federal government had to assume responsibility as Wyoming, Montana and Idaho were territories, not states! Yosemite became the first US state park in 1864 under President Abraham Lincoln, and this essentially paved the way for the first national park (especially with the campaigning of John Muir and others).
The Countryside Management Association (CMA) are holding a study day on Monday 12th December at Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, near the O2 in London! The study day is titled “Wildlife sites in urban areas – challenges and benefits for people and wildlife” and it looks to be an interesting one.
Not only is this a great site, but the day will coversome big topics like: the impact of nature sites on health & wellbeing, community involvement (and successful volunteering schemes), and the effects and pressures of development. Phew!
The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was once the most adbundant bird in North America, possibly in the world. Humans hunted them on a massive scale in the 1800s, and they were driven to extinction in the early 1900s. Have we learnt anything from the plight of the passenger pigeon?
A course about conservation
I’ve been taking the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Introducing Conservation” offered by United for Wildlife. United for Wildlife is a collaboration between seven big conservation organisations, and has the Duke of Cambridge as President. Their course aims to educate people all over the world about conservation, and encourages people to get involved themselves. I’m always keen to expand or refresh my knowledge, especially when there are certificates to reward the worthy! I’m currently working through Lesson 1: Life on Earth, and one of the exercises asked me to write briefly about an extinction from the last 500 years. I chose to write about the Passenger Pigeon, a dramatic example of human-caused extinction due to both the huge numbers involved and the short timescale over which it occurred.
Last month I visited Maldon’s Hythe Quay for the first time. Maldon is an Essex town, situated on the coast by the Blackwater Estuary. The Quay itself sits on the River Chelmer; upstream (to the west) lies Chelmsford, whereas downstream the river empties into the Blackwater Estuary and then the sea.
Have you heard of the Countryside Management Association (CMA)? The CMA supports countryside management professionals throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I currently have the role of East of England Region Coordinator, and I’ve organised a social and networking event for anyone involved in countryside management or interested in joining the CMA. So why not come along? More information about the event below!
2nd April 2016 at Belhus Woods Country Park, South Ockendon, Essex
4pm-6pm: Walk and talk
6pm: Meal (optional)
Join us for a walk around Belhus Woods Country Park, with the option of a meal afterwards at a local restaurant. This free CMA event is open to members and non-members alike, and will be a great chance to meet others working in the industry, to discuss your own site and find out about others, and to find out more about the Countryside Management Association.
Belhus Woods Country Park is over 300 acres on the borders of Essex and London, managed by Essex County Council. The site is part of a large extent of open land, with neighbouring sites managed by the Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust. For more information about the Country Park, including a location map, see Belhus Woods Country Park’s webpage. For those coming by car, there is ample parking at the Country Park although be aware that parking charges apply.
Please let us know if you are coming to the meal by 19th March, so that we can confirm the restaurant booking.
For more details and to book a place, please email Tom Heenan (CMA East of England region co-ordinator) on: eastofengland(at)countrysidemanagement.org.uk.
Formed in 1966 the CMA is the largest organisation supporting the work of conservation, access and recreation professionals in the natural greenspace and countryside sector throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. To find out more about the CMA visit http://countrysidemanagement.org.uk
I’ve taken a number of online courses before, using the coursera platform. This offering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison was shorter in duration than some (running over four weeks), but was packed full of information including video lectures, interviews, scientific journals and more. Whilst no stranger to forests – I already had a grounding in the subject through my undergraduate degree and my work as a Ranger – the course added a lot to my knowledge. It gave a global context for forests, covering forest ecosystems around the world in the first week. It then delved into the value of forests to humans, our effects on forests, threats to forest habitats and biodiversity, and some of the possible solutions for preserving forests into the future.
Each week of the course (a “module”) included activities, and I thought this element worked really well. For example, Week 4 had us watching a video, and reading, about protecting forests for carbon offsetting, then posting our views in the discussion forums on using forests and owning carbon. Each week also included a quiz, which one needs to pass at 75% or higher to get a Statement of Accomplishment at the end of the course. Although this course was shorter than some of the others I have undertaken, the quizes were rigorous and had me wracking my brain on a number of occasions. I took this as a good thing, because testing is a useful part of learning and actually improves our recall and understanding of a topic. With two attempts allowed on each quiz, if you take the time to work through all parts of the module (and perhaps revisit some of the harder parts in between attempts), it is still very possible to get a passing score on the quizes. I have a Statement of Accomplishment to prove it!
Overall, I really enjoyed this course. It was a great opportunity to expand on my knowledge of forests, putting my work in UK forests into a global context. I also got to talk to people in other parts of the world, and learn from them about their forests and the threats and conservation efforts therein. I think the course could be improved by developing on this aspect; perhaps some of the activities could involve working collaboratively with a peer.
Belhus Woods Country Park (where I currently work) received the Green Flag award for 2015/16, which was great news. The Green Flag Award was launched in 1996 “to recognise and reward the best green spaces in the country”, and the judges look at various criteria such as management, community involvement, conservation and heritage.
To celebrate this achievement, we held a flag-raising event on Wednesday 30th September. The under-5s “Puddleducks” group made their own flags using Autumn leaves, and there was cake and balloons. In other words, we celebrated in style.
Some of the CMA members from the East of England region met on Saturday 27th June at the Lee Valley Velopark, near Stratford station. We were treated to a fascinating tour of the Velopark (including the Velodrome, mountain bike and BMX tracks), followed by a walk around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. We saw the wildlife areas, and learnt about their creation and maintenance from Lee Valley staff. We then retired to a local pub for dinner.
It was interesting to walk around the site of the 2012 Olympics and see the London Olympic legacy. As well as being informative, the social was a great chance to touch base with some of the other members in the region and discuss the CMA. Many thanks to Derek and Ges, for organising the social and showing us around!
The Countryside Management Association represents professionals in the greenspace and countryside sector, and supports development of staff, students and volunteers. Benefits include training and study days, CMA “Ranger” magazine, networking opportunities, international links, and professional accreditation. Membership is heavily discounted for unwaged members – including students.
For more information visit countrysidemanagement.org.uk.
A Ranger blogging about nature conservation, wildlife, and travel.