Forests and Humans MOOC

I recently completed the course “Forests and Humans: From the Midwest to Madagascar“, a free online course from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This ran from September 30th til October 28th, on the coursera.org website.

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.

Green Flag for Belhus Woods

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.

Countryside Management Association: Olympic Park social

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.

CMA-EoE Olympic Park Social
At the Olympic VeloPark! Thanks to Roger Cole for the photo.

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!

CMA logo

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.

Nuclear Fallout: 8km Mud Run with obstacles

Fundraising target achieved!

 02/11/14 07:10
Finished the mud run, phew!!! Lots of mud, some very cold water, some tricky obstacles… but lots of fun. Thanks to everyone that’s supported, we’re up to 65% of our target and some donations still coming in! 😀

05/11/14 06:02
I still can’t believe the race is over, but I’ve got a shiny medal to prove it hehe. Thanks to everyone that’s sponsored, we’ve reached our target of £200. All thanks to you guys!

justgiving donations - target reached

As promised, pictures from the event:

Raising for Rangers

I’m taking part in Nuclear Fallout with a fellow Country Park Ranger, Nicola – this is an 8km muddy race with obstacles, in Essex. The race takes place on Sunday 2nd November (not long now!!!), and we are raising money for the Thin Green Line Foundation.

The Born Free Foundation are very kindly helping us to raise money for the Thin Green Line Foundation, the world’s only charity solely dedicated to protecting endangered species and threatened ecosystems by supporting park rangers. The Thin Green Line provides park rangers with equipment and training to assist them in patrolling on the front-line of conservation, and provide financial support to the widows and orphans of park rangers killed in the line of duty. Read more about the Thin Green Line at http://thingreenline.org.au/. We hope you will help to support them with whatever you can spare.

Nuclear Fallout is a wet, cold, muddy race around the Secret Nuclear Bunker Estate. “We’ve 60+ natural & man-made obstacles all on hilly, undulating farmland & heavy Essex Clay,” says nuclear-races.co.uk. Obstacles include lakes, cargo nets, and 120 metre monkey bars. Read more at http://www.nuclear-races.co.uk/index.php/events/nuclear-fallout/.

Please help us to support this worthy cause with whatever you can spare. Muddy pictures will go up after the race!

TO DONATE:

Visit www.justgiving.com/Tom-Heenan/ or

text RNGR99 £x(the amount you want to donate) to 70070

The race has been completed and donations are now closed! Many thanks to everyone who supported this worthy cause!

World Ranger Day 2014

July 31st was World Ranger Day.

World Ranger Day commemorates rangers killed or injured in the line of duty, and celebrates the work rangers do to protect the world’s natural and cultural treasures.” – International Ranger Federation.

World Ranger Day has taken place each year since 2007, and many around the world take part by organising events to help commemorate, increase awareness, and raise money for The Thin Green Line (a charity “dedicated to protecting endangered species and threatened ecosystems by supporting park rangers”).

Lee Valley Regional Park held a Disc Golf Challenge to celebrate World Ranger Day and raise money for The Thin Green Line. As a member of the Countryside Management Association, I attended the event with some of my Thurrock Ranger colleagues. We competed in teams of two around the new frisbee golf course in Lee Valley Country Park, Hertfordshire – all nine holes (or baskets) of frisbee fun. At the event, Thurrock Rangers presented a cheque for The Thin Green Line, having raised £400 through a “Glowing in the Dark” glow-worm night and other activities.

I found the Disc Golf Challenge challenging, but enjoyable – although finishing with a respectable score, I managed to spend much of my time hunting for the frisbee in the long grass and scrub. This was also a great chance to see more of the Lea Valley, and meet some counterparts from Lee Valley and other parts of the country. Although the Disc Golf venue (near the White Water Centre used in the 2012 Olympics) wasn’t too far from where I grew up, I hadn’t seen this part of the valley before. This isn’t so surprising when one considers that Lee Valley Regional Park is 10,000 acres in size, and 26 mile long!

Although the day was good fun, there was a serious message. There are over 100,000 protected areas across the globe, and many of the Rangers working to protect these areas risk their lives daily. It’s estimated that over 1,000 Rangers have been lost over the past decade (IRF). Prince William, HRH Duke of Cambridge, acknowledged the important work of Rangers in a youtube video message for World Ranger Day 2014. Dr Jane Goodall also created a World Ranger Day video message this year to show her respect for the world’s Rangers.

To learn more or find our how you can become involved and support park rangers on the front-line please visit:

 

2013 Conference of the British Naturalists’ Association

I attended the 2013 BNA Conference yesterday at Forest School in Snaresbrook, primarily to help out Essex Amphibian and Reptile Group with some pond dipping. They ran pond dipping activities for people attending the conference, alongside bat walks, butterfly hunting and other similar activities that were run on the day by knowledgeable naturalists.

This was my first outing with Essex ARG and my first encounter with the BNA, and I now have a very positive impression of both. Pond dipping took place in nearby Manor Pond, contiguous with Epping Forest; this proximity to the ancient woodland no doubt led to the school’s name. This is a pretty pond, and with a variety of wildlife lurking amongst the crack willow and yellow flag-iris it would seem to be a great pond for nature too. Essex ARG in the form of Ray Cranfield and Neil Phillips skillfully netted some of the resident pond-life to show to the curious, and shared their depth of knowledge with everyone. I used my environmental education experience to assist some of the children with dipping the pond too, making sure no-one ended up taking an unplanned dip themselves!

P1290049i-001T
Ray Cranfield and Neil Phillips test the waters at Manor Pond.

After the pond dipping sessions, we mingled with the rest of the BNA Conference (with the theme of “Wildlife and the Urban Landscape”). There were some fine exhibits and information from various organisations in the school’s dining hall (a very fine building; we were watched over by wooden angels carved into the woodwork of the ceiling!). There were also some fascinating and entertaining talks from Professor James Hitchmough and Bill Oddie.

I then followed Epping Forest’s Senior Forest Keeper, Andrew Gammie, on a nice long walk through some of the nearby Forest. This was great for me, as I got the chance to become better acquainted with this part of the 6,000 acre plus Forest – I don’t often venture this far to the south-west when exploring. Having walked an hour to the venue that morning, and including the walk home at the end of the day, this added up to a very fit and active Saturday!

A Ranger blogging about nature conservation, wildlife, and travel.