New school area launches at Vitacress farm
Vitacress’ Abbotts Ann farm in Hampshire, which grows watercress, now has a specially designated area for school visits. Vitacress’ watercress farms are havens for biodiversity and Vitacress manage river banks to ensure beneficial conditions for plant and animal species, and monitor stream beds and water quality.
The new school area has safe access to the river for river dipping, a variety of minibeast habitats for exploration, wild bird and bat boxes and an otter holt. The area is fenced for security and fitted with a teaching log circle.
Developed by The Vitacress Conservation Trust, a charitable organisation which has been set up to focus on environmental initiatives associated with Hampshire’s chalk streams and salad and watercress crop production, the area will host school visits in conjunction with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.
Earlier this month (Monday 4 July), 30 children from Andover CE Primary School and 15 from Amport School were the first to enjoy visits to the new school area. Farm manager, Ron Bainbridge, introduced the children and their supervisors to Vitacress and explained about watercress production. Vitacress grow 95 tonnes of watercress a year on the Abbotts Ann farm.
The children become ‘minibeast’ explorers entering the stream safely, looking under logs and using sweep nets to catch species for identification. They also found colours in nature to match a colour palette, searched for ‘woolly caterpillars’ and learnt about camouflage. At the end of the day, farm manager Ron brought out his owl, Rocket, for a demonstration. Rocket is used as a safe form of pest control on the farm. Susan Simmonds, assistant education officer, from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust led the day.
Ron Bainbridge, Vitacress’ Abbotts Ann Farm Manager said: “We have always enjoyed hosting local school and community group visits and are delighted with our new dedicated education area. It provides the perfect environment for children to experience nature and watercress production first hand. We look forward to working with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to welcome more schools to the farm.”
Each child left with a copy of “The Wonderful World of Watercress” booklet – a publication sponsored by the Vitacress Conservation Trust as an educational resource for primary school aged children explaining the history and production process of watercress as well as the habitats associated with the farms.