Swift Improvements…

What’s that high pitched screaming overheard on a summer’s day? It could be the sound of Swifts! These beautiful acrobats of the skies can often be seen hunting for their favourite food (flying insects!) around our lovely school. To many people the sight of swifts in the sky is a sign that summer has arrived.

Sadly, swift numbers are on the decline.  The 53% decreasein their breeding numbers in the UK between 1995 and 2016 has made swifts an amber-listed species, say the RSPB.

One of the main reasons Swifts are becoming less common is a loss of their habitats, which are the roofs of older buildings.

Mrs Amey has helped out, by getting a fasntastic ‘swift box’ which will hopefully provide a place for the birds to breed. Swifts are social birds and love to nest together, so we are on the look out for more swift boxes!

A huge thank you to James and Rumen who put up the swift box, and of course to Mrs Amey for supplying it! 

Have a look up next time you are at school to see if you have spot it. We hope to see swifts checking out the ‘new accommodation’ very soon….



Apples and Paring.

This Friday the 5th of June is World Environment Day and Friends of the Earth tell us that in order to combat global warming we need trees. In fact if we double the number of trees we can help to remove up to 10% of greenhouse gases from our air every year!

At St Michael’s we regularly plant trees and we care for those we already have.

You will know that there are a range of beautiful apple trees in our school orchard, but to keep them in full health , they need a lot of TLC and attention.

We are lucky enough to have Mrs. Prout who does an amazing job making our school grounds look beautiful. However, there is an awful lot for just one person, so this weekend Matt, who has 10 years experience with an orchard on Dartmoor, volunteered to come in and check up on the trees in the Secret Garden, and the Orchard.

The older trees in the orchard are about 100 years old and are in need of a bit of a hair-cut. Pruning in the summer means that the tree won’t sprout new growth as it is focusing on growing fruit. It does mean that some of the fruit had to be sacrificed, but it will be better for the life of the tree.

Next the smaller trees needed tending. Grass has grown around the base, and some shoots had grown from the graft. (Apples trees are usually grafted onto root stock.)

All the trees you buy for your garden have had this treatment.

To stop the root stock sprouting (and taking energy away from the top part of the tree) the grass was cleared and a mulch is put down.


Then to top is pruned slightly so that you can see the sky through the branches when you lie underneath. Old folk tradition says that a healthy, mature apple tree should be shaped like a goblet, with enough room in the ‘bowl’ to fly a pigeon around.

Most of or wood pigeons seem to spend more time wandering about the school eating tasty scraps from the vegetable garden, and might be too fat to do much flying!61658518_609833229516151_8258670718011572224_n

It can’t all be done at once, so the trees will have more pamper sessions in the coming winters, and summers, depending on what they need.

We look forward to eating some of the fruit and even making apple juice and perhaps apple pie, as the year moves on.



Branching out at forest craft club…

As part of our Forest Craft Club after school programme, the next skill we wanted to learn was scraping. This is an important skill in order to prepare sticks of green hazel wood for cooking in a later session. There were important guidelines to follow.

When cutting a piece of wood with a knife you should always cut away from yourself. Think about where the knife may go if it happens to slip before you make a cut. Grip the handle correctly then holding the piece of wood out to your side, move the blade down then out, letting your shoulder rather than your arm do the work.



Always return a knife to its sheath, holder or folded position after use and when passing it to another person.


After we had finished the scraping we went to the nature area to plant some hazel trees. As we had used some hazel in the scraping activity, it was a good way to sustain our hazel trees in our nature area by planting some new ones for future groups to use in years to come. Tree planting is a tricky business, the roots need to be carefully separated. picking the right spot for planting the hazelnut tree is very important because of its root system and the spread of the canopy. So we had to a spot that will allow the tree to stretch itself both vertically and horizontally. Also, we had to ensure that there isn’t too much sunlight, as this is unfavorable for the hazel tree. Then a ‘T’ shaped cut needs to be made in the ground.

It was time for the end of forest craft club! Mrs Twiggs popped back to give our new hazel trees some water. Hazel saplings need plenty of water, especially in their first year of growth. We hope to see them grow very soon!


‘Our Planet’ by Joe Prout Year 2

Welcome to our planet,

can you feel the breeze,

because it’s so cold,

you might even freeze.

I can feel the power when I pick up the flower,

it runs down my spine,

when I sing this rhyme.

As the tree is tall as me,

it reaches high up in the sky,

branches arms,

roots like feet,

this lovely tree I’m glad to meet.

By Joe Prout





Tree identification with Year 3

Year 3 Poplar class had an ‘outdoor learning’ session with Miss Mogridge. We began by discussing the difference between trees, shrubs and other plants. We then talked about why it might be useful to be able to identify trees. Then, using a leaf dial to help us, we walked around our outside area in small groups having a go at identifying different trees. We have a lot of species in our school grounds!

Mrs Prout helped us identify some too!  The children had a brilliant time and were very sensible as well as respectful of the nature they encountered – including a little black toad!


Fruits and Shoots

The work to bring the pond area back to us continues. This Sunday, it was the turn of our two apples trees to have some (tough) love and care. We are lucky enough to have an experienced volunteer come and work with these trees. He has been managing an old orchard on Dartmoor for many years, so knows a bit more that we do!

When working with nature, we trust its ability to recover, and sometimes things can look a loot worse before we see the benefits. In this case you will most likely agree that the trees actually look a lot better despite their slightly over due prune.

The first job was to remove the ivy. It is a great environment for all sorts of life like gold crests, as ivy hides lots of creatures these birds like to eat. However it is these very slugs and woodlice that can also cause damage to the trees as they nibble at the bark and soft parts. This could could cause disease, and later in time, the ivy can even pull a tree down as it dies off.

Now, step back with a cuppa and really ‘look’ at the tree.

Where are branches crossing? Is the bark damaged or diseased? Is there any dead wood?

Next, imagine the tree as an open bowl or goblet shape. This shape allows air and light to reach all of the branches, flowers, leaves and later, fruits. When pruning a fruit tree this is what you need to aim for.


Our trees have been unloved for so long that they are very twisted and damaged. This tree still needs more work, but for now it will have to wait as the tree puts on its spring growth.

Pruning a tree in the winter, will mean you need to keep an eye on it as the summer arrives, the tree will grow loads of new thin branches as the sap rises in the coming months.

Pruning a tree in the summer, whilst you have to say goodbye to all those lovely fruits, it does mean that the tree focuses on growing the remaining fruits and not growing branches.

The ‘brash’ or bits of branch and twigs have been put to one side to ‘season’ or dry out. Next year they will make ideal kindling.


The trees are now more ‘open’ and the ivy has been removed. We will keep an eye on them and in the summer months have another look to see what we can do next.


For now, the trees can be left to get on with growing.

Have a peep over the fence at break time and watch the trees flourish!