During two 10-day residencies at the Growing Our Futures project in Okehampton, Devon, I worked with wildlife expert James Beer and with pupils from a local primary school to study the wildlife habitat at Okehampton College, Devon and design a series of permanent installations for the garden on the site. James Beer has lost the ability to see but recalls the shape and feel of the birds from his work at ringing stations and from the time before he lost his sight. Using scissors and stiff card, James was able to create accurate portraits of the birds present on the site, identified aurally during a number of sound-walk surveys carried out at the college. These were used as templates to create viewing holes in an educational bird-hide, which served as both a field-guide and a sheltered spot from which to watch the birds unobserved. Thus James Beer, who could confidently identify the birds in the garden but was unable to see them, could share his knowledge and appreciation with the visiting children, who were able to see the birds but not to identify them.
On an educational bird-walk at the college, the children were encouraged to think of wildlife habitat first in terms of what they themselves need to create a comfortable home – from food and water to shelter, privacy, safety and stimulation. After observing the distinct anatomies of the different birds, the children attempted to figure out their different habits and requirements, through which they were introduced to the basic concepts of biodiversity, what an ecosystem is and how it works.
Children from three local primary school classes participated in workshops to help design feeders and nest-boxes for the garden, made from recycled materials. Some of these designs were then used to produce feeders and a bird table for the gardens at the College and the school, using materials from Proper Job, a local recycling and reclamation project, and from the local municipal waste and recycling centre. These were set up as part of the permanent installation to encourage wildlife in the gardens, and are refilled and maintained by the pupils as an ongoing engagement with the project.