Schoolchildren gearing up for the big dig

19 Jun 2017 | No. 2017-18

This June schoolchildren across Britain will take part in one of the biggest science projects of its kind, helping scientists at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) understand how important the tiny animals that live under our feet are for many of our birds.

As part of the What’s Under Your Feet? project, school playing fields across the nation will be turned into living biology laboratories as the children dig-up 30cm x 30cm squares of soil and record every tiny creature they find.

Dr James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the BTO, said, “The children taking part in this research provide a unique opportunity to collect the largest dataset of soil invertebrates anyone has ever seen, which scientists at the BTO will then be able to use to determine the role, if any, these animals have in the declines of many of our birds.”

The What’s Under Your Feet? project is a partnership between the BTO and EDF Energy and is expected to engage over 15,000 schoolchildren in biological monitoring during the next two years, the results of which will be written up and published in scientific papers.

Dr Pearce-Higgins added, “We know that many of our birds feed on the invertebrates that live in our soil, what we don’t know is how dense the populations of these soil-living animals are in different parts of the country, or how they might respond to climate change, and it is really important we get a handle on this. Even though they are small they underpin the lives of many larger animals and thanks to the army of schoolchildren taking part it looks like we might be able to do just this.The success of the project hinges on schools taking part and submitting their data to the BTO, take part submit your data and make a difference."

Visit the EDF Pod website for more information, resources for schools and to sign-up your class

Notes to editors  

  1. What’s Under Your Feet? - We know little about the distribution of soil invertebrates across Britain or which factors influence their abundance such as climate and soil type. Engaging schools in this project provides an excellent opportunity to answer these questions, and they will be getting their hands dirty in the name of science. By digging randomly selected turf samples from school playing fields, schools can hopefully provide us with the information to help us relate long-term declines in some familiar bird species to climate change. Learn more about the What's Under Your Feet? project at the Pod website.
  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.

Contact Details

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5:30pm)
Mobile: 07585440910
Email: press [at] ()

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. Please contact images [at] quoting reference June 2017 - 18

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

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