Avon Heath Country Park
An exciting new project is underway at Avon Heath Country Park in Dorset that will involve the artistic and practical skills of many of the county’s schoolchildren – and which ICM is delighted to be sponsoring.
Nestled just off the A31 at St Leonards, Dorset, you could almost be forgiven for driving past the entrance to a site that is home to some of the rarest species in Britain. Unbeknownst to many who drive past on the adjoining dual carriageway, Avon Heath Country Park is Dorset’s largest park, a vast expanse – around 600 acres – of protected wood and heathland and a designated internationally-renowned Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI). It has been awarded this status because of its habitat – heathland has dramatically diminished throughout Europe over the last 100 years.
The Park boasts a nature reserve full of rare breeds. Sand lizards, silver studded blue butterflies and rare insect species are all uncommon to the area but have chosen the heathland and gorse bushes as their home. It is also home to many birds, including Woodlarks, the Dartford Warbler and Nightjars.
Dorset Countryside Rangers help manage the site, which is open all year round and owned and managed by Dorset County Council (DCC).
Exciting educational project
The new project that is underway – comprising practical educational workshops – is designed to capture the site’s unique features in the form of wooden sculptures. Run by the Park’s rangers, who are dedicated to furthering the conservational knowledge of children, ICM is sponsoring the workshops in order to engage young people with creative developments at the site.
Mike Chapman is the sculptor who will be leading the design process and who will ultimately create two or three large wooden sculptures in the shape of the wildlife native to the Park. Mike has extensive experience of creating such sculptures – something that the children will benefit from greatly when they experience his skills first-hand during a series of creative educational workshops designed specifically for them.
The Dorset schoolchildren involved in the project will be from a variety of backgrounds and educational stages. One group will be from Montacute School, a school for children with profound learning disabilities, and another from Turlin Moor Middle School. Montacute and Turlin Moor Middle will work together and consequently learn from each other’s needs as well. Older art students from other under-represented schools will also take part in the project.
Stage one of the workshops will involve the children exploring the Park’s wildlife with one of the rangers. Since the final sculpture will be based on one of the site’s native creatures, such as a sand lizard or butterfly, it is ideal that the children are able to gain a thorough understanding of the Park’s habitat.
The guided tour is planned to ignite creative ideas in the children’s minds which they can then pour out to the sculptor during the second half of the workshops. Most exciting of all, their ideas will be listened to and acted upon – Mike will work to ensure the children are creatively involved throughout the project.
Carol Dawkins is Assistant Ranger at Avon Heath. Responsible for coordinating the project, she is looking forward to seeing the children get involved: “We’re really pleased to have the sculptor Mike Chapman on board for this project, he is just what we are looking for – he’s happy to work with the wood we have available, his ideas fit in with what we want to communicate about the park, and he has experience working with children in the design process. It’s very exciting.”
Enjoying the site
The material for the sculptures will be sourced from pine wood that has been felled on the site during the conservational management of the heathland. It is hoped that the carvings will be in place in the park by summer, when the site is at its busiest with visitors.
Visitors flock to the Park because it offers something for everyone. Dog walkers risk the early-morning chill to stroll briskly through the numerous walkways, groups of children eagerly descend on the activity-packed Visitor Centre, families take advantage of the wildlife tours on offer, and cyclists meander along the dedicated cycle paths and trails. This year, 2008, will also see a lot of improvements being made to the site, such as installing new playground equipment, refurbishing and extending the visitor centre and installing new planters that will house the new sculptures at the entrance of the park for all to see.
The Park also specialises in catering for the young and has a full educational programme designed to complement the National Curriculum. The site has an activity-packed Visitor Centre where children can take a hands-on approach to discover more about wildlife, from matching birds to their songs using interactive buttons, to creating beetle drawings by playing dice games!
ICM’s Chairman, Dr Alistair Somerville Ford, will sponsor the children’s workshops in 2008. He said of the project: “I’m really pleased to be able to provide such interactive classes for children visiting the site. Workshops such as these offer a great opportunity to have fun and appreciate all that Avon Heath has to offer. Hands-on activities create memories that young people will keep with them throughout their lives, and these workshops will hopefully inspire them to look after their local nature site and possibly get involved in the future.”
For more information about Avon Heath Country Park, including opening times and upcoming events, visit Dorset County Council’s website at: http://www.dorsetforyou.com/avonheath
Examples of Mike Chapman’s work can be found at: www.mikechapmansculptor.com