Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Westonbirt, through the eyes of an Octocopter! by Susanna Byers, Interpretation Support Officer

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

As the construction of the new Welcome Building gets fully underway, our mission to produce an exciting new interpretation space continues! My role here as Interpretation Support Officer means that I get to dig deep into what Westonbirt is really about: finding out about it’s historical development, how the site is intricately managed, how important trees are to our world and how Westonbirt itself provides a significant scientific resource for people the world over.

The information I have found out during my short time here is incredible; Westonbirt is so much more than a beautiful walk around some nice trees – when you walk around think about how the trees got here, where are they native to, why they are here and how they have been managed to grow so magnificently.

Within the new Welcome Building will be a room dedicated to bring you this information. It’s a big job, but one that I am thoroughly enjoying as we explore how a site such as Westonbirt can tell it’s story in innovative and engaging ways.

Coinciding with the beginnings of the building itself, has been the start of the next phase in creating this interpretation room: collecting the content. If you’ve been at Westonbirt recently you may have heard a noise that resembled an alarmingly large swarm of mosquitoes. The sound was in fact what is called an Octocopter, an 8 ‘legged’ remote control high definition camera.

The Octocopter: the propellors are made of Birch!

The Octocopter: the propellors are made of Birch!

 The idea started as thinking of an interesting way to tell the story of the Holfords rides on horse and carriage through the arboretum. We thought one way of doing this would be to show people a view which they may not have seen before: from height! We took shots of the routes the Holfords would have taken, and filmed a multitude of historic and iconic Westonbirt areas including flying at canopy height down Jackson Avenue; flying low through the branches of the shelter belt off Circular Drive; and soaring high above the Downs taking in a 360 degree view of the whole site.

The camera can fly up to 400m in the air, and is manoeuvrable in any direction as long as it stays within eye line of the operator. With one person remotely operating the mini helicopter-like machine itself, another operates the camera; using a wireless monitor to see whether to pan left and right or up and down. As many a visitor pointed out as they passed the film crew, it rather resembles some sort of UFO…

 Octocopter on Broad Drive

 Although it may seem an easy thing to set up and shoot with the octocopter, the process involved is complex. Once the camera is rigged up, the batteries have to be connected; batteries so powerful that it makes a huge crack sound as the leads attach. The shots are discussed at length, as the operators need to know exactly where they are going before take off: a machine this powerful takes up a lot of battery life in a short amount of time. Finally, before lift off, we wait for it to pick up satellite signal – it records where it is in case something goes wrong, so it can land itself back in the spot it started! A very clever piece of kit, especially as it manages to pick up a signal amongst the trees here!

Octocopter wireless monitor

 The footage will form part of an introductory short film which highlights the historical development of the Westonbirt Landscape, showing a side to the arboretum which we wouldn’t normally be able to see.

Octocopter

For more details on The Westonbirt Project please visit our project webpages

Getting into the swing of things and happy coincidences… by Ben Oliver, Learning and Participation Manager

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

This March at Westonbirt Arboretum, renowned artist and sculptor Richard Harris will be creating a sculpture over 10 metres in height to celebrate one of Britain’s oldest trees – the arboretum’s 2000 Year Old Lime located here in Silk Wood.

Richard HarrisRichard Harris moves a stem into place

As with all new projects, it takes time ‘to get your eye in’; and this is certainly true for the 2000 Year Old Lime sculpture. The sheer amount and tangle of stems is daunting; it is hard to know which piece is going to work where.

Much of the first three days has been about trial and error; seeing which wire twisting techniques work (and look) best, sorting the cut poles into useful piles and working out how to work most effectively as a team.

The team work on securing the stemsFinding the best way to twist the wire

But Richard is optimistic about the steady progress; as he says ‘we are beginning to see the wood from the stems’.

The first poles have gone up… and some have come back down.Watching Richard’s careful and patient approach it is obvious that the work could be done more quickly; but that he is very keen not to rush.

Each piece is assessed to check it ’fits’ into the vision of the sculpture he has in his mind. Once in position the wood is held in place temporarily and turned until he is happy that it works, before it is fixed in place with the wire.

Even then he is constantly considering whether it will need an added layer on top to create the effect he is after.

It’s not unusual to see him at the top of the scaffold one moment and then standing back on the ground the next – just to make sure. Like a giant vertical jigsaw he is gradually creating order from the chaos of cut timber lying around.

In fact, speaking with Richard it is clear he rather likes this concept of bringing order; as he sees it as a reflection of the order the stems once had when they were part of the living tree.

The sculpture taking shapeThe-sculpture-from-the-insi

It is not the only happy coincidence that has occurred.

During Richard and his team’s work they have calculated that by the time they have finished the sculpture will contain around 2,000 growth rings (based on the rough calculation that they will be using around 120-150 individual stems, each with between 10 and 20 growth rings).

Even the approximation of rings seems to fit – reflecting the ambiguity of the real tree’s actual age.

Whatever the Weather: Trees for our future climate. By Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Join our Learning Team for the ‘Whatever the Weather’ family trail around the arboretum this half term (between 12-14 February) to discover how trees survive in all sorts of weather, how trees can change the weather and what we are doing to prepare the arboretum for a changing climate.

Scientists expect that the British climate will become drier and hotter.

Westonbirt Arboretum is creating a one hectare site to trial species from different origins to see how they survive in our changing climate. This is called the 2050 Glade, which is close to the junction between Lime Avenue and Loop Walk in the Old Arboretum.

Ten initial species have been planted, including a field maple collected from seed in Turkey. Around half have survived the harsh winter. Field maple is a species native to England and it will be interesting to see whether the plant collected in Turkey performs any differently.

Field maple at Westonbirt, credit Gina Mills

Other species to be tested are the Turkish sweetgum, the Kamila tree and both the Chinese and Japanese Tallow tree. Three of these trees may be suitable substitutes for autumn colour providers, such as maples, that might not do so well in a warmer climate.

You can find out more by visiting the Great Oak Hall to pick up a trail map and taking part in our free fun activities at the Learning Centre between 11am and 3pm, 12-14 February.

Useful links and information:

General admission to Westonbirt Arboretum (until 28 February): adults £5, concessions £4, children £2.
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and accompanying children go free.
Take a look at the Plan Your Visit web pages for opening times, directions and more information.

Whatever the Weather: Missing home comforts. By Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Join our Learning Team for the ‘Whatever the Weather’ family trail around the arboretum this half term (between 12-14 February) to discover how trees survive in all sorts of weather, how trees can change the weather and what we are doing to prepare the arboretum for a changing climate.

The eucalyptus at Westonbirt Arboretum is a long way from home. Native to Australia, its normal climate is very different from our own.

Eucalyptus

It survives well here in the UK, but it doesn’t like the frost. Many eucalyptus trees don’t tolerate temperatures below -5C. So how is this one still alive?

The Holford family, who created Westonbirt Arboretum, planted a shelter belt of evergreen trees like yew and hemlock around the edge of the arboretum to protect more delicate trees from cold winds and frosts. We still lose trees due to cold weather from time to time, but the shelter belt helps to reduce this.

You can find out more by visiting the Great Oak Hall to pick up a trail map and taking part in our free fun activities at the Learning Centre between 11am and 3pm, 12-14 February.

Useful links and information:

General admission to Westonbirt Arboretum (until 28 February): adults £5, concessions £4, children £2.
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and accompanying children go free.
Take a look at the Plan Your Visit web pages for opening times, directions and more information.

Whatever the Weather: Can a tree predict the weather? By Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Join our Learning Team for the ‘Whatever the Weather’ family trail around the arboretum this half term (between 12-14 February) to discover how trees survive in all sorts of weather, how trees can change the weather and what we are doing to prepare the arboretum for a changing climate.

There is a lot of folklore surrounding trees as weather predictors. It’s hard to separate the myths from the science, as some people say that trees do react to changes in air pressure and humidity that we humans can’t detect. Here are some tree predictions, why not test them out for yourself?

“When maple leaves curl and turn bottom up in a blowing wind, rain is sure to follow”

“Open pinecones predict dry weather and closed pinecones predict rain”

“The first bloom on the horse chestnut tree indicates that winter is over and there will be no more cold weather”.

“If the oak flowers before the ash, we shall have a splash. If the ash flowers before the oak, we shall have a soak“

Ash leaves

You can find out more by visiting the Great Oak Hall to pick up a trail map and taking part in our free fun activities at the Learning Centre between 11am and 3pm, 12-14 February.

Useful links and information:

General admission to Westonbirt Arboretum (until 28 February): adults £5, concessions £4, children £2.
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and accompanying children go free.
Take a look at the Plan Your Visit web pages for opening times, directions and more information.

Whatever the Weather: Surviving life in a freezer. By Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Join our Learning Team for the ‘Whatever the Weather’ family trail around the arboretum this half term (between 12-14 February) to discover how trees survive in all sorts of weather, how trees can change the weather and what we are doing to prepare the arboretum for a changing climate.

Although their branches may seem delicate, birches are one of the toughest tree groups around. In fact they’re so tough they can survive even if their trunks freeze solid.

Birch at Westonbirt Arboretum

The secret behind their survival is the removal of water from their living cells – after all if there is no water to freeze, ice can’t form!

Pores in the walls of their cells allow water to move out of the cells and into the spaces between them, where it freezes. However, the pores are too small for ice to move back into the cells, protecting the cells from freezing. This method is so good, some trees can survive temperatures as low as -196 degrees celcius!

You can find out more by visiting the Great Oak Hall to pick up a trail map and taking part in our free fun activities at the Learning Centre between 11am and 3pm, 12-14 February.

Useful links and information:

General admission to Westonbirt Arboretum (until 28 February): adults £5, concessions £4, children £2.
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and accompanying children go free.
Take a look at the Plan Your Visit web pages for opening times, directions and more information.

Whatever the Weather: Urban Lungs. By Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Join our Learning Team for the ‘Whatever the Weather’ family trail around the arboretum this half term (between 12-14 February) to discover how trees survive in all sorts of weather, how trees can change the weather and what we are doing to prepare the arboretum for a changing climate.

Today we are beginning to realise the many ways street trees and parks make our cities nicer places to live. Plane trees (such as this one below) are particularly suited as they are highly tolerant of pollution.

London plane at Westonbirt, credit Gina Mills

Thanks to evaporation from their leaves, trees can help cool city temperatures during the summer – by as much as 6 degrees celcius in hot climates.

In winter they act as windbreaks helping to conserve heat. This reduces the energy required for heating and cooling. In addition their leaves help to clean the air and reduce noise. This promotes healthier communities – in fact a study showed that settings with trees lowered stress and blood pressure.

You can find out more by visiting the Great Oak Hall to pick up a trail map and taking part in our free fun activities at the Learning Centre between 11am and 3pm, 12-14 February.

Useful links and information:

General admission to Westonbirt Arboretum (until 28 February): adults £5, concessions £4, children £2.
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and accompanying children go free.
Take a look at the Plan Your Visit web pages for opening times, directions and more information.

Whatever the Weather: Wind stoppers and sun blockers. By Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Join our Learning Team for the ‘Whatever the Weather’ family trail around the arboretum this half term (between 12-14 February) to discover how trees survive in all sorts of weather, how trees can change the weather and what we are doing to prepare the arboretum for a changing climate.

In the 1800s Napoleon planted avenues of tall poplars along French roads to shade his marching armies. Although these armies may have disappeared, our use of trees for protection continues.

Lime Avenue at Westonbirt Arboretum credit Jane Gifford

Today trees like hawthorn, sloe and holly are often used by farmers to protect livestock, crops and soil from the wind.

As well as protecting crops from physical damage, hedges also protect the soil, reducing water loss and soil erosion. This leads to an increase in crop yields. Trees also benefit farm animals – in one study cows that could shelter under trees were found to produce more milk.

You can find out more by visiting the Great Oak Hall to pick up a trail map and taking part in our free fun activities at the Learning Centre between 11am and 3pm, 12-14 February.

Useful links and information:

General admission to Westonbirt Arboretum (until 28 February): adults £5, concessions £4, children £2.
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and accompanying children go free.
Take a look at the Plan Your Visit web pages for opening times, directions and more information.

Whatever the Weather: Huff and puff! By Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Join our Learning Team for the ‘Whatever the Weather’ family trail around the arboretum this half term (between 12-14 February) to discover how trees survive in all sorts of weather, how trees can change the weather and what we are doing to prepare the arboretum for a changing climate.

The wind is a major cause of tree death. Yet trees can grow in extremely windy areas – if they have the right shape and flexibility!

Where strong winds blow from one direction, ‘flagging’ can occur.

Scotts pine with signs of flagging from strong winds

This is where the branches grow only on the downwind side of the tree. Some trees even grow flat along the ground.

Other trees like the palm are very flexible and can bend right over. This allows them to even withstand hurricanes.

You can find out more by visiting the Great Oak Hall to pick up a trail map and taking part in our free fun activities at the Learning Centre between 11am and 3pm, 12-14 February.

Useful links and information:

General admission to Westonbirt Arboretum (until 28 February): adults £5, concessions £4, children £2.
Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and accompanying children go free.
Take a look at the Plan Your Visit web pages for opening times, directions and more information.

Turning a learning centre into a wintry wonderland! by Caroline Bennett, Learning Assistant

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Christmas is coming! There’s no getting away from it now, we are in full decoration frenzy here in the learning department at Westonbirt. Today Chris and I were joined by our team of volunteers and two professional “winter effects” specialists. The task in hand is to create a magical place for visitors to make natural crafts during our Enchanted Christmas event. This is what it takes:

To turn a learning centre into a wintry wonderland:

10 sheets of moulded “ice”
11 Christmas trees
150 kgs of wax
4 trailer loads of fresh greenery
44 metres of red velvet ribbon
50 metres of green satin ribbon
One snow machine

A child enjoying crafts at Enchanted Christmas

And to prepare the crafts:

4000 pipe cleaners cut into quarters
5000 willow stems from the Somerset levels
Thousands of cones, collected from the arboretum and then sorted by species
2kg of cinnamon, lightly crushed with a sledge hammer
1kg of star anise
600g of cloves
A pile (taller than me) of large cypress branches
100 metres of muslin, cut into 15cm squares
100 fabric crayons (A quick experiment shows that this will definitely not be enough, we need at least 300 more)
60 more metres of green and red ribbon
40 balls of wool
3.5 kg of glitter
5 litres of glue
40 yoghurt pots donated by our volunteers
9 cups of tea
8 cups of coffee
1 hot chocolate
18 mince pies to feed our willing workers!

We are getting slightly over excited. I really hope you can all come to see the final effect!

Find out more and buy tickets for an Enchanted Christmas…