Well, there we were. February 8th and it was wet. I mean, really, really wet. Undaunted, a group of our Eco Leaders worked on the latest phase of our project. With the generous support of the Tree Council we had acquired 300 native hedging trees of a larger than usual size, 90–100cms. This is a big step up for us. Over the past 2 years we have planted in excess of 2000 trees, but these are mostly whips. Adding larger specimens to wildlife corridor means that we can provide an even greater environment which will fuel our biodiversity.

As a group, we make decisions based on sustainability principles. To prepare the ground, it was agreed that rather than use a petrol tiller we would invest in a cordless version charged from our solar energy capture station. With the ground prepared we were able to increase our wildlife hedge. To push the sustainability credentials further, the tree stakes are hardwood from a sustainable source. Even better, having rejected plastic tree guards we have invested in biodegradable versions. This means that the process from ground preparation through to planting and later, when we remove the tree guards and compost them. The support and advice of the Tree Council in this has been so valuable for us.

Working in small teams, we set to and planted the trees alongside taking the opportunity to survey our Nature Reserve now that winter had been in place for a few months. As it happens, we took delivery of a range of pond plants earlier in the week. All of them were selected based on how they will support wildlife from the pollinators through to birds, small mammals and, hopefully, aquatic amphibians. We know that the refurbished pond has had an effect: a newly dug fox earth very close to the pond and hedgehogs captured going about their business at night (from our wildlife cameras). One of our teams planted part of the pond, reserving most of the plants for our special guests.

Our community prides itself on sharing. Earlier in the academic year we donated 75kg of our apple harvest to local foodbanks – we’ll return to that later. On this day, our sharing extended to welcoming in 60 pupils from one of our local primary schools. They spent the afternoon working alongside our secondary students, helping to plant our hedging trees and the majority of our pond plants. Along the way, the pupils were given tours of our Reserve and introduced to our apiary of 2 been hives.

Where next? In March we anticipate delivery of 100 fruit trees. These will be planted in our Reserve to help grow this aspect. Our longer terms plans are that the apples, pears and cherries harvested will be shared between our school communities and local foodbanks. Continuing the theme of sharing, later this year our 2 hives will become 4. A natural part of a bee colony lifecycle is swarming. This is where a queen will decide it is time to find a new home, taking a large part of her children with her. Catch this activity in time and you have an additional colony. We have agreed that each new hive will be given to a local school. As we have the benefit of land, the hives will form part of our extended apiary with the schools managing them. To aid this, each of our hives is equipped with a set of sensors that transmit health data such as temperature and sound frequency. Armed with this data, each school will be able to monitor their hives daily, let us know if there is unusual activity and general keep their bees in good condition.

So, why bees? Our tree past planting and future plans will produce masses of summer long pollen and nectar. Ideal for our bees. This will promote a cycle of pollination, fruit harvest and honey production. The last part is a key aspect, the honey is a valuable cash crop. Funds from this will be reinvested in the Reserve and used to promote further climate change in our community and the wider area.

So, one small, squelchy step in the mud and rain is part our giant leap into combating climate change. Our gates are open. If you want to visit, please contact us at jonesm@ntc.kent.sch.uk or virtually here: https://ntcnature.blogspot.com/