This month marks the 10th birthday of the Moorland Discovery Centre at Longshaw, set up to learn about the landscape on Sheffield’s doorstep
“We’ve got a fish!” The nine – year-olds leaping up and down with excitement had not expected to find such exotic wildlife on Sheffield’s moorland fringe but wise Moorland Discovery learning officer Rachael Lyon knows otherwise.
“This is not a savannah with lions but our moorland is equally as important and valuable and exciting, and we sometimes overlook that,” she said.
“It’s not big and in your face like a rainforest, a lot of our wildlife is hidden and secret and often close to the ground, but when you do walk past and realise you’re not going to see that anywhere else in the whole world, it’s a really special experience. It doesn’t have to be a monkey in a tree, it could be a red grouse, for example, that you won’t find anywhere else other than in this country and on heather moorland.”
This month marks the 10th birthday celebration of the Moorland Discovery Centre, set up at Longshaw by the Moors for the Future Partnership, and run by the Peak District National Park Authority and the National Trust to help children and adults learn about the unique landscape on the doorstep of Sheffield.
“When schools are thinking of trips, they often think of the famous places to go to, and it always surprises me how many children have never visited this countryside when it’s so close,” said Rachael.
“I think it’s important if you’re growing up in Sheffield that you do know what’s around you.” She added that learning outside on your local moorland allows all pupils to get involved, and helps a child’s personal development.
“It broadens your understanding of the world. I can still remember going out and planting acorns with a ranger when I was a girl, and that really inspired me.”
Teacher Victoria Shaw was visiting the centre with her pupils from Lydgate Junior school recently, and contrasted the learning experience in a modern classroom environment to an afternoon by a boggy stream full of tiny creatures.
“You can do so much with google VR and interactive whiteboards, but coming out here and doing it yourself hands on reinforces their learning more,” said Victoria. “You can show them a photo but having that little insect wriggling around in a tray while you try and identify it is a very different experience.”
The eight – and nine-year-olds were identifying creatures in streams and exploring woodlands, and then examining the local ‘food webs’ – who eats who, to put it bluntly, often dramatised in real time within their pond dipping jars and trays.
“There are loads of things to identify I haven’t even heard of,” said nine-year-old Kai Haste-Wain.
“We found a caddis fly larva case that looked like it was made of tiny stones,” said Lyla Dulini, also nine. “It made me feel a sense of freedom, out with all the wildlife.”
“They had no idea beforehand what was in that stream bed, and were surprised to find it teeming with life,” said their teacher. “So next time they visit Padley Gorge, they might do some searching and engaging with their families, and knowing all the things that live there, they’ll think we do need to leave it as we found it, we do need to look after it and play our part.”
The Moorland Discovery Centre hosts courses and days out for secondary and primary schools, and can also be hired out by groups or schools planning their own learning for children or adults in the Peak District countryside.
In future years Rachael and her team hope to expand the courses available for different age groups. Unlike many popular commercial school attractions, fees paid go straight back into running the courses and looking after the local countryside, she noted.
“In modern society where there’s so much technology and everything is brought to you easily, that appreciation of the nature around you, and how you’re part of that is important,” said Victoria Shaw.
“It’s also about being proud of being from Sheffield, this countryside, outside, here is part of Sheffield. We say to the children, this is their city too.”