New bird ready for releasing into the wild

Here is a new bird cut out.


A new use for old maps

I know I haven’t been in touch for a while (well nearly two years) but I just thought I would blog about a few uses I have been making for old maps from my geography days.  I have always loved paper cuts, birds and maps.  It just seemed natural to combine the three.  So here is a little of what I have been up to.  (You can buy these online at my etsy shop each one comes in a box frame) Find out a little more at my other blog

Mistle thrush cut from Scotish Geology Map

Thrush cut from vintage Bartholamew Map

Green Woodpecker cut from Cwmbran Land Use Map 1976

Each bird is mounted on pins and put into a box file

Detail from Tawny Owl

Gorgeous Geography says goodbye

Some people may wonder why I haven’t updated my blog over the last few months but as some of you know I have left secondary teaching and I am pursuing other avenues at the moment. 

I would like to express gratitude to all those SLNers who gave me inspiration and the motivation to carry on with the teaching of geography for as long as I did.  I still love geography and perhaps one day I will return to teaching it again.  Thanks to all who supported this blog I will continue to keep it here for now but I won’t be answering any comments or adding any posts.

Melanie Richards

Y7 Solve the mystery of the sliding rocks of Race Track Playa




From todays lesson you should know that this rock is located in Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park in Califonia.  A playa a dry lake bed. 

Click here for a google earth placemark

There is something special about this area though. From the picture above you can see that there are trails behind the rock and evidence that this rock has moved.  But how can it move, no one has seen them move and some of the rocks are very heavy.  Your task is to try to solve the mystery of Race Track Playa

Web Sites to help you with your quest

A very good site to give you some more background lots of video’s and explanations from Dr Paula Messina – this has lots of different theories

US Geological Survey has tracked them using GPS – here is their report a piece of scientific research using GPS to try to track the movements.

USGS Death Valley Geology Field trip

Could this video below be true or just a red herring?  What do you think?

Your task is to work in fours to come up with your own theory as to why the rocks at Race Track Playa in Death Valley mysteriously move.  You can use movie maker or power point to come up with your own theory that must be presented to the rest of the class.

Y7 Virtual Water

Today Year 7 have been working out how much water they actually use.  Below is the power point we used in lesson today.

Here is the homework sheet that goes with the power point.  Click on the link to download


Ms Richards New Pet OWL

Yes I have a new pet OWL.  Not quite as feathery as you would imagine but it’s very smart.

This has found its way to my household via a trail from Project Genie which is a project set up to produce educational materials, resources, information and support for children, teachers, parents and carers, to explore the implications of climate change and what everyone can do to minimise the harmful effects.

Project Genie lent us this little gadget to trial and shows how much electricity my household uses at any one time and calculates the cost in pence per hour as shown below or in greenhouse gasses.  This has been quite usefull as I can work out how much pocket money to stop for wasted energy usage! (Lights left on in bedrooms!). 

It has made all of us think how much energy we are using.  The second image shows the read out when I switched on the kettle.  A good way to cut down on the boil time is to only boil the amount of water you need, not a full kettle.   I have also noticed a difference with different types of lights on.  Most of my house runs on energy efficient light bulbs but in the kitchen there are some halogen bulbs which use a lot more energy.  You can see the OWL read out with the halogen bulbs on below.  We will definatley  be looking into replacing them.  We have also taken to switching off all appliances that are on standby at the wall and again this has made quite a bit of difference.

This shows the amount of pence spent per hour with the lights on in the kitchen before the Kettle is switched on.

This shows how many pence per hour when the kettle is switched on.

This was the value with the halogen lights on.

This is the value when we switched them on a normal set of lights would be below 1p

Below shows the electricity reading with the TV and video on standby

You can see it is around 1.3pence per hour.  Below shows the reading when it is switched off.

When we switched off the appliances at the plug the value went down to 0.9p per hour. 

Apparently cutting your base energy usage by 1p per hour will save around £85 per year.  The Owl even shows your greenhouse gas emissions, optimum temperature and humidity also.

We were lent ours but they can be bought on the highstreet in shops such as Peter Jones and John Lewis or just search for them online.  (They should sell for around £30)


The wireless display unit is fed via a simple to fit transmitter which   clips around your electricity supply.  You set up The Owl by telling it how much your electricity supplier charges per kilowatt hour from your most recent bill.

You can buy your OWL from





Y8 Deforestation for Palm Oil

Ever heard of palm oil?  do you ever use it?  do you know where it comes from? 

Palm oil is used by virtually every one of us in one form or another.  In its basic form it is used in processed or prepared foods such as bread, cakes, breakfast cereals and ready meals, as well as ice cream, margarine and crisps.  Unlike oil seed rape and sunflower oils palm oil is valued because it is solid at room temperature.  Palm oil is also cheaper than other types of oils. 

The vast majority of the worlds palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia  where the expansion of the industry has destroyed millions of hectares of rainforest.  This deforestation is said to be far greated than the rate of deforestation due to logging in the Amazon rainforest. 

In the past the majority of palm oil production has been for food and cosmetics but now the European Union have agreed to cut greenhouse gasses by 20%  by 2020 we are having to find a new source of fuel for our transport.  The answer is said to be bio-fuels however this will mean that Indonesia and Malaysia will produce more palm oil which will result in further destruction of some of the most valuable rainforest on the planet. 

The effect of this destruction will mean that many species of plants and animals that live in these rainforests  will be lost forever.  Examples of species that will be lost are the Sumatran tiger, Asian Elephant and the Orangutans of Borneo.

The FOE (Friends of the Earth) have highlighted how the palm oil industry is having a devastating impact on the orangutans of Sumatra and Borneo.  The orangutans like eating the palm oil fruit in the plantations and the farmers don’t like this so they have been killing the orangutans even though they are protected under national laws.  The rate of the forest clearance along with the killing of the orangutans by farmers is happening so quickly it is said that orangutans could be extinct within 15 years.  98% of the Indonesian forest is expected to be destroyed by 2022.  At the moment there are between 55,000 and 60,000 Orangutans in Borneo but 5,000 to 10,000 orangutans are killed each year.


The weeks homework is to find out which products in your home have palm oil in them.  This is quite difficult because often it is not labelled as palm oil but vegetable oil and it is often called numerous names.  Below are some of the names Palm oil goes by.  Download the worksheet below to help you collect your findings. 

  Click here to download the homework sheet

 Click here to open up a google earth file to show where Borneo is and also some overlays showing distributions of Orangutans in 1930, 1999 and 2004.  You can also watch the youtube video below in google earth.

 Names under which palm oil and its derivities appear.

Cety alcohol
Dicetyldimonium chloride
Elaeis guineensis
Isopropyl palmitate, octyl palmitate, potassium palmitate, retinyl palmitate.
Vit A Palmitate
Palmitic acid
Palm kernel oil
Palm kernelamide DEA and MEA
Palm oil
Palm olein vegetable oil
Steareth-2, Steareth-20
Sodium palm kernelate
Vegetable oil

Find out more

Below are some other links that will help you with next lessons task

Palm oil biofuel of the future – guardian article 

Friends of the earth link for more info about palm oil

Born to be wild – a web site looking at the impact on the orangutans

Roundtable on sustainable palm oil -this is an organisation that aims to promote the use of sustainable palm oil use.  Many companies and supermarkets are now signing up to this.

Watch this video to find out more about the impact on the forest

A sky news report on the effects of Palm Oil production on the Orangutans


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