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Tortoises and Darwin visit the hills of Worcestershire

Charles Darwin is famed throughout the world for his work on evolution. His voyage across the oceans and through the Galapagos Islands in HMS Beagle is used to inspire children with science, the diversity of life, and the joys of geography. Less known, however, is that Charles Darwin rented a villa for 10 months of 1851 in the Malvern Hills of Worcestershire to enjoy the famous healing spring waters of the area. Darwin had suffered from ill health through much of his adult life.

This local connection with Charles Darwin led St James' CE Primary in Malvern to choose Darwin and the Galapagos as the autumn topic for their Early Years and Keystage 1 children. An internet search for giant tortoises led their teacher, Mrs Winters, to our website and booking an education visit.

Planting seeds Fire-bellied newts Newts and tortoises

Ecology is all about animals and plants suiting the places where they live. Evolution is animals and plants changing over time to suit the place they live and what they need to grow well. We looked at how some of the animals we brought along have evolved to suit where they live. Sandy the tortoise (a small European Herman's tortoise, not a giant Galapagos tortoise!) has tough leathery skin to survive hot dry and sandy places. The fire-bellied newts are soft, wet and delicate and wouldn't last long in the tortoise's dry sandy home. But they're just right for the freshwater ponds they live in.

We learnt about seeds and giant tortoise poo - getting hands on with big pâpier-maché models of different seeds and a big bowl of water that was our artificial tortoise stomach. Kids designed and carried out some simple experiments with real fruits (plums are always fun to eat!) and really impressed me with their explanations. Driving home I couldn't stop thinking how real science really is real good fun. Fruits, seeds and tortoise poo – what could be a better introduction to science!

"Thank you very much for the fantastic Tortoise Science Day you did with us... Children and staff both got a lot out of it. The whole day gave our Keystage One children a real idea of what it means to be a scientist, as well as an opportunity to be a scientist themselves - a great opportunity to improve observation skills as well as having a go setting up a fair test."

Mrs Winters, Class One teacher, St James' CE Primary School, Malvern, Worcestershire
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