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Ebbw Fawr Learning Community

Ebbw Fawr Learning Community 2012 - John Hilliers' reports.

John Hillier, who is the Society Secretary and also a Welsh Baccalaureate Coordinator at the Ebbw Fawr Learning Community, has involved a number of the students in the development and upkeep at the Woodlands site.

Below, are extracts from two newsletters that John has written for the school, and John will submit further reports of the students activities for publication on this website.



SNAP! Biodiversity Photography Competition 2012.

We were invited by Miss Nadine Morgan of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council – Biodiversity Department to participate in this years “SNAP” - Biodiversity Photographic Competition 2012 at Beaufort Hill Woodlands. The planned activity, “Habitats and Landscapes”, took place on September 26th 2012 between 9:30 am and 12:00pm. Mr John Hillier’s Year 9 Creative iMedia class were guided around the woodlands area by Mr Chris Hatch, a local ecology consultant. He identified to the group many plant, animal and fungi around the area. Here, opportunities existed for the pupils to take snap or two… A selection of the photographs will be entered into the school section of the completion on Friday 19th October. Good luck to the group.

SNAP! Biodiversity Photography Competition 2012

I am delighted to inform you that our Year 9 Creative iMedia class has been awarded “2nd prize” and “Best new entry” in the “Schools Category” for the SNAP! Biodiversity Photography Competition 2012. Our prize was presented in a prestigious Awards Ceremony held on Thursday 29th November 2012, at Llanhilleth Miners Institute and was gratefully received by Casey Dykes-Jones and Paris Maguire. The evening included a speech from the Mayor of Blaenau Gwent and there was also an interesting presentation on “Photographing Wildlife” by Andy Rouse, who is a professional photographer.


John Hillier – Woodlands Director and Welsh Baccalaureate Coordinator organised an activity to support the “Keep Wales Tidy Towns” initiative. The idea was to engage pupils of the local schools to assist with the development and upkeep of the Woodlands. Activities consisted of a general litter pick and collection of coppiced materials for chipping. The chipped wood was used to re-establish the outdoor classroom log circle, which was unfortunately vandalised during the summer and to establish informal woodland pathways. The activity, took place on September 22nd 2012 at the Woodlands. between 10:00am and 12:00pm.  Six pupils volunteered their services throughout the morning activities: Catherine Lynch, Maia Callen-Davies, Kelsey Williams and Amy Taylor (Year 10 - Ebbw Fawr Learning Community) as well as Rhianne Hillier and Sophie Hall (Year 6 – Beaufort Hill Primary School)


We recently received our packs of trees and hedgerow whips from the Woodland Trust which supports the Jubilee Woodland project. Mr J Hillier and Mr A Griffiths instructed and supervised the Year 9 Land Management group with the planting of approximately 100 trees on Wednesday 14th November at Beaufort Hill Ponds & Woodlands. Further planting and woodland management tasks will continue into the spring. It is planned to plant a Royal Oak tree at the entrance of the woodlands to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee.

Forest School Activities 2015/16

First up was to prepare a section at Beaufort Woodlands to create a “glade” or open space which would benefit fauna and flora. The management work would help an old hedgerow gain valuable light and prevent thinning and further degradation. Future plans are to manage the hedge by means of layering. Tasks involved trimming and felling of willow and alder; nothing will be wasted either, small branches will be shredded and used for covering the improved footpath they created, whilst larger branches will either be used for hedging stakes or stacked to create a hibernaculum (home and shelter for many native creatures). We were supported with the activities by Sally Morgan – Project Officer at Keep Wales Tidy.

A new term saw the start of a new challenge… Forest School. Ok, what is this?           Forest School is a stimulating set of activities, that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment. The challenge… convincing some students what nature offered them. The environment… Students would initially gain experience of working at two local nature reserves; Beaufort Woodlands and Silent Valley, where many conservation activities would enable them to work together and bond whilst developing their skills.

A few weeks in and we’ve changed venue… Chris Reed – Assistant Reserve Officer at Gwent Wildlife Trust invited us to help remove a barbed wire fence and posts at the Silent Valley Nature Reserve. The reasoning behind the removal of the fence was to manage the growth of bracken, which has severely overgrown and is chocking the glades. Roaming animals will then be able to naturally manage the bracken by foraging and eating.

All this hard work had proved too much for some and subsequently taken a well earned break from the activities, hopefully we will see them back as soon as possible. Projects had to continue so it was back to Beaufort Woodlands for the next couple of weeks with some new students eager to start; a few projects were planned, of which will more than likely take us well into the New Year. The creation of a wooden viewing platform, path maintenance, fence maintenance and a survey on dog fouling was all to come. The viewing platform activity enabled the students to participate in developing their skills with tools, working together and importantly numeracy, “measure twice, cut once” was the motto they had learned repeatedly and thankfully no waste material was generated by mis-measuring! In rotation the students had the opportunity to complete some path maintenance adjacent to the platform, grass and weeds that had grown into the path was cleared and swept to restore the path to its former glory. It had taken us a few sessions but teamwork and hard graft prevailed and the result is astonishing. The job is not quite complete but we will continue when the weather allows.

Knowing that the weather changes were imminent students were now on the task of preserving an existing low fence at the main entrance to Beaufort Woodlands. Wrapped up in their warmest clothes and protected form the wet, students began the task of painting. I must admit theses kids will lend their hand to any task without complaint… well not many complaints.

The last couple of weeks has been difficult due to extreme weather conditions, but we have endeavoured to support the community as best as possible. Sally form Keep Wales Tidy had asked us to help out with a “Dog Fouling” survey and raising awareness activity. Sally had the unfortunate job of removing the dog foul but the kids enjoyed marking the areas with chalk spay and stencils, thus raising awareness of the issue. Approximately 30 bags were removed in the first week and an improved 10 bags in the second. Hopefully this trend will continue and we will eradicate this anti-social behaviour in the community.

Our current task is the creation of wild flower containers around the base of trees, something I saw previously in a London borough that would enhance the look as well as supporting the Welsh Government pollinator project. There are 7 trees in total and 2 have been completed so far. My youngest daughter kindly tidying up the first after sowing with wildflowers.

Many thanks to Mr Battle for his support with the following students. Keep a watch out for future newsletters so follow their progress. Also our thanks to the following people and groups that provided opportunities for the students: Gwent Wildlife Trust – Chris Reed and Liz Winstanly, Keep Wales Tidy – Sally Morgan.

Forest Schools blog update by Mr Hillier

Shwmae pawb, sut wyt ti? I bet you are all eager to continue to follow our forest school journey! Since our last update we have battled with cold, wind, rain and snowy conditions, but we have never taken a day off. Before our hard earned Christmas break we set ourselves the challenge of clearing any area of the recycling compound so that we could use it as our base to work from and somewhere that we could build a storage shed; you will see our progress later… The recycling area contained many wood pallets that needed to disposed of but we felt we had a responsibility to become carbon neutral so each and every one of them was disassembled. The good ones were put aside ready to construct a “bug hotel” with the ASDAN group and the not so good cut and chopped into kindling, which proved very popular with staff who had wood burning stoves.

Following our return in January it was back to Beaufort Woodlands to continue some maintenance along the path at the Upper Boat pond. The grass and weeds that had grown into the path was cleared and swept, it may had taken us a while but with two teams starting at either end it was a race to get to the middle first. I was also fortunate to borrow 2 year 11 pupils who were more than willing to help cut back some over growth and prepare the area to plant some tree whips. We had received free trees from The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) through their Ovo Energy 2015 tree planting programme. A mix of varieties received that will mainly by used to replace many of the lost hedge planting around the perimeter of the Upper Boat pond.

Mid January and its snow put a stop to our conservation work but not our love of the outdoors. Off we took, climbing above the trees and along the heritage trail the Domen Fawr dram road. Through a gateway we saw the first of the industrial archaeology, a wheel and the remains of a rusting cylinder, of which was formerly a steam boiler that generated power to move trams up and down the hillside. Also from this vantage point we could appreciate the views of our valley in splendour of white snow.

It was back to the “yard”, our giant Meccano set had been delivered and was in need of assembly, our storage shed. Our biggest challenge was not to deal with the poorly presented instructions but with the anti-social behaviour from Henry and Imogen. The stormy weather had played havoc with the partly constructed building but after many hours and good teamwork from the lads we completed its construction during the first week of March. The skills these students gained whilst participating in this project can be considered priceless to their futures. One quote I had off was “Sir, if you and Mr Battle built this together it would have been assembled sooner”. “Yes”, I replied, “but that’s not our aim… we want you to benefit from constructing this shed, however long it takes”.

Many thanks once again to Mr Battle for his support with the students. Continue to keep a watch out for future blogs to follow their progress as the Spring emerges.

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