Over 7 million* schoolchildren are being asked to get their hands dirty for science

01 Jun 2015 | No. 2015-25

As part of a new partnership, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and EDF Energy are asking schools across Britain to take part in a scientific study that will for the first time map what is under our feet.

Schoolchildren are being asked to sample a 300mmx300mm square of their playing fieldfor soil invertebrates - the creepy crawlies that make soil what it is -  with the aim of producing the most comprehensive distribution of this little known fauna that British scientists have ever seen.

The ‘What’s under your feet?’ activity will be hosted by EDF Energy’s award-winning school programme the Pod, where schools will be able to sign up for instructions and download free curriculum-linked resources.  It is hoped that this study will help scientists better understand the impact climate change is having on changing bird populations.

Some of the UK’s best known birds are disappearing - the UK has lost over half of its House Sparrows and Starlings during the last twenty-five years. Also, much of the wildlife that inhabits Britain’s shores is in decline, or under threat. Being at the bottom of the food chain, invertebrates underpin a whole ecosystem that ultimately leads to people, so it is vital that we understand better what we have beneath our feet.

Schoolchildren will be the citizen scientists on the ground, collecting the samples that will be analysed by scientists at the BTO who will then produce the all-important distribution maps. If every school in Britain and Ireland takes part, the area of soil uncovered will be greater than five whole football pitches; over 150 tonnes** of soil will be inspected and billions of invertebrates could be counted. By relating the data collected to information about soil type and climate, we will gain an understanding of the main factors influencing soil invertebrates, and help to identify how vulnerable these populations are to future change.

Blaise Martay, the scientist in charge of the project at the BTO said, "I’m really excited about this project – soil invertebrates are really important for birds yet we know so little about them, and many of the birds that rely on them are in decline. This project will help us to understand how soil invertebrates are affected by soil and weather and what this means for birds. And the more we know about why some birds are declining, the more we can do to help."

She added, “Schools provide an excellent opportunity to answer these questions.  The information collected by schools participating in What’s Under Your Feet? across the length and breadth of the country will enable us to produce the first maps of soil invertebrate distribution and abundance for the UK."

Darren Towers, Head of Education at EDF Energy, said: "It’s critical that we encourage more young people to study science and sustainability if we are to tackle climate change and ensure a more sustainable future for everyone – something that’s key to EDF Energy’s mission. Our new Pod activity with the BTO will give schoolchildren a great opportunity to gain hands-on experience of science in action, while contributing to a significant study that will inform what we understand about the UK’s ecology.”

Even though the first dig won’t take place until September, schools are being asked to register now ensuring that when the time comes they will have everything they need to take part in this ground-breaking survey.

For more information, please visit http://jointhepod.org/campaigns/campaign/51

*Number of schoolchildren in the UK taken form the Government website https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-school-and-pupil-numbers 

**Based on the cubic volume of the soil sample (30cm x 30cm x 5cm) converted into tonnes and multiplied by the total number of schools in the UK

Notes for Editors

  1. The Pod, EDF Energy’s award-winning schools programme
    Launched in September 2008, the Pod is EDF Energy’s award-winning programme for schools. It was originally developed to help EDF Energy meet its Sustainability Commitment of engaging with 2.5 million children by 2012 in learning about the sustainable use of energy. The Pod now has over 19,700 schools and community groups registered (including over 170 schools overseas) and is estimated to have engaged in excess of 10 million schoolchildren. It aims to engage young people (aged 4 to 14) on energy, science and sustainability by providing free curriculum-linked activities and materials for teachers. The website,www.jointhepod.org,  provides free lesson plans, activities, games, videos and information, all with cross curricular links. The content is currently aimed at key stages 1, 2 and 3. The ethos of the Pod is ‘learn, act, inspire’ – helping young people learn about an issue, take action on this, and inspire others with their achievements through blogs, photos and videos to showcase their work.
  2. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.www.bto.org

Contact Details

Emma Douglas
(BTO Head of Fundraising)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: emma.douglas [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2015-25

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

Related content