A blog from Anne Waggot Knott, reflecting on the Moss of Many Layers project
a school minibus in the distance, driven by sideways rain
heralds the widening of eyes
and the blooming of minds
in the wilderness
As we reflect on the second of three creative activity sessions with young participants on Bolton Fell Moss, I realise we have now really begun to unpack the many layers in the title of the project.
This visit was all about exploring what lives and depends on the moss: plants, insects, spiders, moths and birdlife.
We unloaded moth traps, uncovering beautiful, fragile beasties camouflaged against lichen and logs. We foraged for slugs and beetles and squirmed as a mass of spider babies spilled from their mother’s egg sac. We wafted our sweep nets after butterflies and captured all of the breathless wilderness wonder we could find.
Our final exercise was to guard ‘curlew eggs’ (actually hardboiled chicken eggs), encouraging the students to understand the vulnerability of ground-nesting birds. I had to leave them at this point but the pupils each took an egg and spread out intrepidly to find their own nesting sites out on the reserve.
I turned to face the rain and my trudge to the car park. As I looked back across the vast expanse of heather, I could see little eight-year-old heads hunkered momentarily alone in the moss; sitting grounded like curlews on a nest, looking quietly around themselves with a new wonder and awareness, fully entrenched in their environment. They were totally absorbed, individually forming new ways of understanding the world.
Reinforcing and embedding this experience through creative activity is a challenge, a layer of learning for me and for the other delivery partners too. This time we made collagraph printing plates inspired by the beasties we found, using recycled and repurposed collage materials, embedding another level of environmentally sensitive practice into the project.
One of the most rewarding things about truly multi-disciplinary science-arts engagement is that we can find ways of reaching every individual participant. As an accompanying teacher pointed out last time, literally everyone enjoyed it. A neurodivergent student was completely mesmerised by the insects and moths. This generated a new admiration from their classmates and helped them focus on the follow up creative session too as they were already hooked. Abstract printmaking is satisfyingly inclusive – it doesn’t matter if you ‘can’t draw’ – it’s just mark-making at the end of the day – and the vibrant effects look enticingly cool.
Also enticingly cool are these climate change faces produced during our reflective debrief. We hadn’t talked much about the bigger picture of carbon capture and storage during this session, focusing instead on flora and fauna on quite an intimate scale. But these expressive, striking images paint a thousand words and give me confidence that pupils have made the connection with the broader environmental catastrophe. I hope that by delivering sessions like this, we will help them develop a broad range of tools and knowledge to really make a difference.