Outdoor Classroom

Since 2014, enhancements to Terryland Forest Park are being rolled out so that it can serve as an Outdoor Laboratory and Outdoor Classroom for the benefit of schools and third level college research as well as for tourism by promoting the city as an outdoor learning hub of national importance. An oasis of animal and plant life, the park provides a range of habitats and ecosystems where animals and plants live and interact. The park offers an insight into the world of living things and gives students the opportunity to study what living things need to survive. 

Long-term partnerships are underway with scientists at the Galway Field Studies Centre at Atlantaquaria (the National Aquarium of Ireland), with NUI Galway and GMIT to develop the Terryland Forest Park as a major Outdoor Laboratory and Outdoor Classroom for the benefit of schools and third level research as well as for tourism by promoting the city as an outdoor learning hub of national importance. Undergraduate student projects and field studies in such disciplines as Zoology and Microbiology are taking place under the auspices of Dr. Michel Dugon, Dr. Colin Lawton and Dr. Caitriona Carlin of NUI Galway. The Insight Centre for Data Analytics in conjunction with 091 Labs (digital makers’ space) are developing sensor technology programmes to monitor weather data from the park. Volunteers students operating under the university’s CKI Alive programme are involved in eco-programmes in the park.

Brendan Smith of NUI Galway has collaborated with artist Helen Caird to produce a series of attractive learning posters detailing the flora and fauna of Terryland Forest Park that together form an Educational Wildlife Trail  through the different habitats of the park. The information on the species shown on the display boards includes both scientific and folklore. Thanks to Gabriel Bourke of NUI Galway, each poster has a QR code that allows visitors to use their smart mobile devices to access additional flora/fauna material on the park’s website. It is expected that Irish language versions of the posters will be available later this year.

Below is an outline of the senior cycle programme from Galway Field Studies Centre:

1. Exploring Ecosystems within the Park
The Park consists of a range of ecosystems that students can explore within a relatively small area. These ecosystems include areas of grassland, sections of woodland filled with native trees, wild flower meadows and freshwater provided by the Terryland River which flows through the park from the River Corrib to Castlegar.

Students can study the diversity of life forms, and identify a range of habitats in the ecosystem, such as under rocks, in grass, under trees. They can learn how to identify animals and plants, using identification keys, and identify various methods for collecting samples and data.

Students can explore food chains and webs within the park and examine how abiotic factors (non-living factors) such as temperature, soil moisture, light can influence plant and animal life. All of this can be carryout out during an ecosystem study.

2. Ecosystem Studies in the Park: Sampling Plant Life
Students begin by selecting of one of the ecosystem types (grassland, woodland or Freshwater) in the park. They then measure and map this area and describe its characteristics (such as how rocky, grassy, flat, steep it is).

Using a range of identification keys, groups explore the range of plant life found in their chosen area. Using Quadrats (a small square of known area), students examine the amount of plant life and how this relates to abiotic factors (non-living factors), such as temperature, light, slope and disturbance.

This helps them to build up a picture of how different plant life is suited to different areas in the park and how this may influence the other living things found there.

3. Collecting and Identifying Animal Life
Another important aspect of an ecosystem study is examining the range of animal life that is found in the park. Students do this by exploring the different types of invertebrates (animals with no backbone), that are found in the ecosystem they are studying.

Using a numbers of collection methods including small traps (that don’t hurt the animals) students samples animals such as bugs, insects, slugs and snails and spiders.

Using identification keys students identify these animals. They then examine their adaptations to the ecosystems in which they were found, and explore what they feed on and what might feed on them.

Finally student’s carryout a quantitative study (a study of the quantity or amount) of an animal in the ecosystem. These can include animals such as worms or freshwater shrimp. 
(Text 1-3 above courtesy of the Galway Field Studies at Galway Atlantaquaria)