NESTING School held a school grounds action day last Sunday and a great crowd gathered despite the drizzle.
The school has been beautifully designed and built and is now graced by the astonishing variety of trees and wildflower-rich spaces within the grounds. If you haven’t seen it yet, try to see it before all the trees grow too high.
On Sunday a bewildering range of activities were on offer and a wealth of adults, too many to name them all. Parents, teachers, visiting experts, volunteers and visitors were on hand to demonstrate, lecture, help, guide and just enjoy joining in.
Neil Work, drystane dyker extraordinaire, was building a peerie broch, with real stones and an enthusiastic crew of assistants. Alan and Ruby Inkster were hard at work with a tree and shrub planting and weeding team. Another party were going round the grounds repairing fences.
Out in the playground coloured lines were creeping across the tarmac, where Ingrid Wishart and Suzanne Malcolmson were helping bairns trace out their own designs for future games and patterns to jump and hop along, run round and leap over. Linda Davis set up a lively RSPB birdwatching display and was running a series of great games to help the bairns learn about the life of seabirds.
Anona Hughson from the SIC environment department arranged masses of leaflets and posters and taught the basics of composting while Joyce Garden introduced groups of pupils to the techniques of drawing wild flowers.
James MacKenzie from the Shetland Amenity Trust, who had planted most of the trees in the school grounds, was back with extra potted specimens and had lots of eager helpers. COPE had given the school a generous discount on many more trees and shrubs and lots of families brought in yet more from home.
The SIC infrastructure services had donated a load of top quality posts, each adorned with the Access Scotland way marker discs and a group of adults and pupils were hard at work installing them along the route of the school trail.
I had a great time with the bairns, mapping and inventing new place names for the many banks, alleyways, twists and turns of the school grounds trails and planting new wild plant species into the existing school wild flower reserve.
Peter Davis had the youngsters elbow deep in recycled materials, creating amazing items including giant butterflies out of woven wire and collage. Home Furnishing had given the school piles of carpet squares which were being fitted around the bases of certain trees to keep competing weeds down.
One stalwart company of parents kept the slaves well lubricated with tea and juice, while another set up a barbeque corner and produced quantities of grilled sausages, burgers and fish fillets with rolls and a choice of sauces. Teacher Jill Williams, ably assisted by peerie Magnus and head teacher Anne Peters, after weeks of planning, presided over a truly successful day.
Nesting has not been the only wild flower-rich place in recent weeks, but you can never take anything for granted. Tingwall valley has had a glorious spring, with far more primroses beginning to return to the banks, and ditch sides, but there have been conflicting pressures building up.
Biodiversity requires timetabled cutting of verges, in order for the seeds to ripen and fall. The SIC roads department has been increasingly edging towards more plant sensitive, environmentally aware main cutting timetables.
September is best as this allows most wild species time to flower and seed as well, ensuring a healthy population of plants into the future. This in turn reduces the food available to the local and migrant bird population, so it may look neat and tidy, to some, but it produces a lose lose situation in the environment.
But there are other pressures too. Roads have to be kept safe for vehicles and drivers, and short stretches of bends need keeping low for sightline visibility, but people use roads too.
Nowadays virtually every road related task is automated, with expensive machinery to buy, run and service. Oil prices are going crazy and a wiggly, windy single track road with banks of endlessly varying width, height and steepness is a problem.
So car drivers, pedestrians, the road men and the needs of the plants themselves, are at loggerheads. I look forward to monitoring the progress of the evolving systems over the next few weeks.
At present some bits of the Tingwall road are beautiful, others a real mess. Some stretches can be walked along, others barely at all.
The cutting machine is designed for flat verges and makes a predictably shoddy job of undulating banks, missing some bits and grinding others to root level and below. The chopped vegetation has been dropped in randomly scattered chunks along the verges, chunks which will rot and kill all the soft flora underneath.
A system needs to be devised in which scenic routes are protected both for their safety, practicability and wildlife quality. There’s still a long way to go.
Birdsfoot trefoil is really coming into its own now, with dazzling cushions lining many routes. These are a real favourite of the bumble bee, and on a really warm day, you can often find several different species feeding from the same plant.
There is no better way of learning the differences between species. The Shetland bumble bee merits special attention. The status of this very special bee, with its rich, ginger and gold stripes and back is uncertain.
Dedicated leaflets, inviting members of the public to send in records of sightings, were published several years ago by the Biological Records section at the Shetland Amenity Trust. Paul Harvey is keen to increase the database of records, better to understand the habits and numbers of this bee.
Try to get hold of a few copes of this attractive leaflet and give some to your friends. Even better, ask a crofter friend who has plenty of birdsfoot trefoil growing on his land, to let you have a root. Establish it in you garden border and you will be able to score more points in the wild garden check list. I have had lots of interesting and useful suggestions for the score system. If you have any tips or ideas, send them in.
Jill Slee Blackadder