Simple Schoolyard Habitat Projects

March 4, 2013 in School and Community Gardens

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Schoolyard habitat projects are the most direct way for students to learn about, and make personal connections with, the environment. These suggested projects are engaging to students and beneficial to wildlife. Start with the project that best matches your school site, interest, and budget.

  • Use trails to reach interior spaces of the habitat. Trails placed through meadows, forest, butterfly gardens and near wetlands and bird feeders allow more students and teachers to use the enhanced natural area. Wood chips are a good ground cover for wooded trails. Many tree maintenance companies will provide free wood chips for your project. Make sure wheelchair access is incorporated into trail design.
  • A long range plan will give many students a chance to take part in habitat activities over several years. Remember to give each site time to develop. Organizations that donate materials or award grants favor projects with long-term ongoing activities.
  • New Castle County Master Gardeners are working with schools for habitat restoration and creation. Contact them at (302) 831-2506.

No Cost Projects

  • Brush Piles

Brush piles provide food, cover and space for small mammals, birds and insects.

Pile tree cuttings or even old Christmas trees.

  • Rock Piles

Rock piles provide food, cover and shelter for small mammals, reptiles, birds and insects.

Pile rocks and stones from baseball to football size or larger. Be sure to leave large and small spaces between the stones so animals can get in and out.

  • Snags

Standing dead trees, called snags, provide homes for cavity nesting birds and insects.

Allow a tree to remain standing if no safety hazard results.

  • Logs

Rotting logs are habitat for many insects, reptiles and small mammals.

Place logs in any of the habitat types. Partially submerged long in wet areas provide a place for turtles and frogs to sun.

  • Meadows

Meadows attract butterflies, a host of other insects, spiders, birds and small mammals.

Allow an unused section of lawn to grow tall. Mow this area only once a year (very early spring is best) so that it will remain a meadow. Maintain a trail through the meadow with regular mowing.

  • Wet Areas

Streams, ponds or marshy spots will attract many animals and will provide habitat for frogs, turtles, fish and salamanders.

Simply preserve or enhance natural wet areas.

  • Composting

Compost piles provide food and habitat for micro-organisms, worms and insects.

Construct a frame that will hold vegetable table scraps, leaves, yard and garden clippings, and shredded newspapers. Turn the compost pile into itself several times a year. Remove the humus that results to use on your gardens.

Low-Cost Projects

  • Feeding Stations and Nest Boxes

Feeding stations and nest boxes attract birds.

Build feeding stations and nest boxes from a variety of materials; i.e., wood, gourds, recycled soda bottles, etc. Place them near protective shrubs and trees. Or build a wildlife observation blind for closer observation. Choose appropriate sizes, settings and food for the type of bird that you want to attract. A helpful reference is An Illustrated Guide to Attracting Birds. 1995. Sunset Publishing Corporation, CA 94025.

  • Wooded Areas

Wooded areas provide habitat for wildlife of many kinds.

Create groves with clusters of native deciduous and evergreen trees. Include shrubs and shade-loving wild flowers in your plans.

  • Hedgerows

Hedgerows provide food, cover and nesting sites for birds, insects and small mammals.

Transplant trees and shrubs from your school nursery or use commercial nursery stock to form hedgerows along property boundaries.

  • Native Tree and Shrub Nursery

Native tree and shrub nurseries provide some habitat until they are ready to be transplanted around the school or community.

Collect and plant nuts, seeds and fruits in an outdoor plot. Root plant shrub cuttings to transplant to an outdoor school nursery.

  • Propagation Beds for Native Perennials

Native perennials attract butterflies, other insects and birds.

Propagate plants from seeds, divisions and cuttings. Perennials grow year after year and can be used in a meadow, wetland, butterfly garden or woodland restoration project.

  • Butterfly Gardens

Butterfly gardens provide food and habitat for butterflies and other insects.

Use native plants and start small. See Fact Sheet The Basic School Butterfly Garden – #MG1 from the Delaware Cooperative Extension for more information.

References

(Available for loan from New Castle County Master Gardeners)

Books

Mowery, Marci. 1996 Native Plants in the Creation of Backyard, Schoolyard and Park Habitat Areas. Audubon Council of Pennsylvania, Camp Hill, PA.

Tufts, Craig and Peter Loewer. 1995. Gardening for Wildlife. Emmaus PA: Rodale Press.

Wyzga, Marilyn C. Homes for Wildlife, APlanning Guide for Habitat Enhancement on School Grounds. New Hampshire Fish & Game Department.

Project Wild Booklets

Wild School Sites, A Guide to Preparing for Habitat Improvement on School Grounds. Project Wild. Bethesda, MD.

Taking Action, An Educators Guide to Involving Students in Environmental Action Projects. Project Wild. Bethesda, MD.

E.P.A. Publication

Getting Started, A Guide to Bringing Environmental Education into your Classroom. The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. Washington, DC.

Miscellaneous

                Schoolyard Habitats, Planning Guide. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, DC.

Wild Acres, Creating a Wild Backyard. Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Owings Mill, MD.

Resources

New Castle County Cooperative Extension

For a list of Home Horticulture Publications, send a SASE to Home Horticulture Publications, Delaware Cooperative Extension, 461 Wyoming Road, Newark, DE 19716

National Wildlife Federation Certification

For information on how to have your Schoolyard Habitat certified by the National Wildlife Federation, contact: The National Wildlife Federation, 1400 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036

Authors:

Peg Baseden, Delaware Master Gardener, and Karon Massado, Educator