The summer environmental school of the Young Naturalists Club at Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Zoological Museum in the Moscow Region© Evgeny Dunaev
22 July 2019

Young naturalists’ summer is in full swing

The summer environmental school of the Young Naturalists Club has come to a close. Offered by Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Zoological Museum in the Moscow Region and funded by the Far Eastern Leopards autonomous non-profit organisation, the summer school had an extensive and diverse study programme that consisted of 10 modules for a two-year study course. Yevgeny Dunayev, director of the Young Naturalists Club at Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Zoological Museum, shared his experience.

As always, the three weeks went by too quickly. Students completed an intensive study programme. They passed tests on flora studies that included 100 Latin names of flowering plants. They collected moss herbaria and learned about different ecological groups of archegoniatae. Another subject of study was the competition between mosses and lichens on a tree trunk. The course on the morphofunctional ecology of amphibians and reptiles taught the students that vipers have only one lung. They also learned how frogs use their locomotor system to jump. The students passed a test on 50 Latin names of insect families and recorded 74 encountered bird species in their ornithology journals. (The schoolchildren could recognise the birds both by their silhouettes in flight and by their calls.) The students examined the distinctive features of nocturnal insects’ flying to light, ants’ neighbours in an ant hill and much more.

The young naturalists grasped most of the material easily and with enthusiasm. They had some difficulties learning the Latin names. Today’s schoolchildren are not skilled in making associations and often try to just memorise the study material rather than analyse consistent patterns and associate names with characteristics or distinctive semantic and sound images.

The mark for the practical training reflects acquired knowledge in a number of subjects. The students received scores between 72 and 96 out of 100 points, which is significantly lower than last year, although the average mark for the practical training (87) was close to the maximum score.

It is important to add that once again, this year the practical training in June was held at the training base of the Dynamo Sport Society. The base is well suited for the environmental school. You may wonder why the young naturalists need a base. Why can’t they stay in a tent camp? But we all know that these days a naturalist’s job not only involves hiking with binoculars or insect nets. In fact, this work is much broader and often requires more serious equipment than binoculars and insect nets.

Over 35 years, I have organised and taught almost 150 field training sessions for school and university students. Many of them brought tents. Therefore, I can give you several reasons why a field training base is better than a tent camp.

1. First and foremost, at a training base, students have more time to actually study.

  • We don’t spend time on pitching and taking down tents or organising basic living tasks (it usually takes one working day, sometimes even two), sawing logs and cutting wood every day, drying clothing after rain and morning mist, etc.
  • There is no need for students to keep watch over the camp site and miss out on an educational field trip.
  • A working day is significantly longer thanks to artificial lighting and room temperatures.
  • As a result, in a tent camp I could teach two or three courses over the same period that I would teach five or six courses at a field training base.

2. Bases offer a better educational environment thanks to the availability of electrical equipment such as microscopes and other devices, lamps and light traps, computers and other office equipment.

3. Staying at a base is safer for the children and equipment. A field training base (a tourist or hunting base) is fenced off and monitored by security equipment.

4. Sometimes base accommodation saves money because there is no need to buy tents, mats, sleeping bags, petrol power generators, campfire equipment, etc. In all fairness, it should be said that re-using equipment may make staying in a tent camp cheaper than a training base.

  1. It is not easy to select a training base that would meet all the requirements of an environmental school for naturalists. There is a whole list of various conditions:
  2. A training base must be located away from (on the outskirts of) a populated area (close to the natural environment).
  3. On the other hand, according to security requirements, the base must be located close enough to a populated area with healthcare facilities (or there must be arrangements in place for prompt transport to a healthcare facility). 
  4. The base must provide access to various biotopes (several forest types, open areas, permanent and temporary water bodies) for full-fledged and multidimensional courses and field trips.
  5. There must be convenient access to the base using one mode of transport (preferably by commuter or long-distance train). Transferring a group of children with backpacks from one mode of transport to another creates unnecessary stress and worry, extra issues and trouble that lower the level of safety. Also, it is better in case teachers need to be replaced promptly.
  6. The base must have a secure area for installing devices and traps and conducting research.
  7. The building must be up to code in terms of fire safety and sanitary measures (firefighting equipment, running water, an emergency exit from the first floor, etc.).
  8. The building must be suited for conducting lectures and practical exercises for the required number of students.

The base must offer affordable accommodation, which is the most difficult requirement to meet in the Moscow Region, because usually the bases in the Moscow Region have an extremely low value for money. Accommodation in more comfortable private hotels in Abkhazia or Crimea is often half the cost.

The Dynamo Sport Society’s training base where we held the practical training was remarkably convenient for the study process. Literally 10 steps from the hotel, there was a bird net and an insect window trap. The administration provided us with boats so that our students could collect aquatic plants and insects. The botanical garden started back in the autumn is already yielding “fruit.” During plant morphology classes, the students sketched the dichotomous venation of the ginkgo biloba and the thorns of the Chinese angelica-tree growing outside the dormitory. So our practical exercise was very successful.

What lies ahead are new discoveries and knowledge about the wildlife of Karelia, the tundra, raised bogs, littorals and rock deposits. What lies ahead are new training sessions, the exploration of landscapes, this time beyond the Polar Circle.

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