Westtown School partners with Rushton Woods Preserve to educate students about bird conservation and introduce the community to new ways to support the cause! Rushton Woods Preserve is 86 acres of protected land in Newtown Square. The farm, fields, and woodlands that make up the preserve are home to local wildlife, particularly resident and migrating birds. This makes Rushton a great host for Willistown Conservation Trust’s bird conservation program, which works to increase the public understanding and appreciation of birds. Visitors are welcome to walk trails or engage in seasonal learning opportunities focused on bird conservation in the same place researchers conduct their studies of avian ecology.
Conservation Tools at Westtown
In addition to the partnership with Rushton Woods Preserve, Westtown is contributing to the conservation effort by being a Motus receiving station location.
What is Motus? The Motus system, is a wildlife tracking system comprising a network of collaborators managing or using receiving stations to contribute to a shared database. The collected data is shared for the use of researchers to gain an understanding of wildlife migration. This can inform a variety of work, from understanding the impact of human development on wildlife habitat to the effect of climate change on the timing of migration.
What is a receiving station? A receiving station is a system of antennae and computers that can detect the specific radio frequency given off by tracking tags placed on birds. The antennae send information gathered from the radio signal to the computer. Then, it is directly uploaded to a database or stored until it is manually uploaded.
What is radio telemetry? Tracking bird migration to this extent would not be possible without the help of technology. When a bird is captured, it is fitted with a small transmitter that has a specified signal attributed to that specimen broadcasted on the radio frequency. The receiving station antennae then automatically receive the signal, which is then translated into data by the connected receiver computer.
The data collected on our campus is used by researchers to understand migration movements and bird habits. This informs how we can support bird populations. More receiving stations means the data is more complete, furthering the work to preserve our flying friends!
Lower School - For many years, first graders engaged in a project in which they learned about
birds on Westtown's campus. On field trips to Rushton, students have observed the banding process and met their feathered subjects up close. From this experience they made a class field guide each year as a record of their learning and the species they observed.
Middle School - From sixth through eighth grade, conservation and sustainability are taught as themes, interwoven with topics such as physics, chemistry, and ecology. Careful attention is paid to reinforce the presence of conservation and sustainability within other subjects. Students learn how to observe the natural world with and without tools by documenting what they see on outdoor excursions around campus and testing the water quality of our streams, pond, and lake with special equipment.
Upper School - The Scientific Research class made its first visit to Rushton in Fall 2018 to observe the bird banding program and its conservation outreach efforts in the local community. Students learned about the process of banding, tracking with the Motus system, and how Westtown contributes to conservation. Getting out of the classroom allowed them to see how data is collected and used in a relevant, real-world setting.
Legacy of Conservation
Westtown’s connection to the natural world goes back to when the campus was established in an area with bountiful trees and streams. These resources, coupled with farmland, allowed for home-sourced lumber, food, and power for a sawmill and gristmill. The school’s emphasis on the Quaker value of stewardship reinforces the community’s continued dedication to conservation. Today’s teaching of conservation throughout all divisions is a part of Westtown’s legacy of caring for the environment.