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.
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.
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.