Inspiring students to become future stewards of the environment

Warrenton, Virginia (October 26, 2021) — We are pleased to announce our goal to host a field trip for every third grade class from the Fauquier County Public School System during the 2022-2023 school year.  We are especially excited about third grade classes because students at that age are both young enough to be strongly influenced by spending time outdoors and old enough to form lasting memories of those experiences. It is also the grade level at which our programs most closely align with the Virginia Science Standards of Learning. For example, the SOLs state that third grade students are expected to “demonstrate an understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science by planning and conducting investigations” and “investigate and understand that adaptations allow animals to satisfy life needs.” Our 900-acre property is perfectly suited for such hands-on experiences.

On average, we host 22 field trips for 1,100 students each year; by hosting all third grade classes, we will increase that to 33 field trips for 2,000 students. In order to achieve that goal, we plan to hire an Education Fellow and to provide funding for school buses to make it as easy as possible for teachers to bring their students here. We have already secured partial funding for this project and we are working to secure the rest of the funding we need. We are grateful for the financial support of our community and we are excited to see the third-grade students of Fauquier County on our property next year!

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The Clifton Institute is a Northern Virginia-based non-profit whose mission is to inspire a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature, to study the ecology of our region, to restore habitat, and to conserve native biodiversity. We provide environmental education to people of all ages, carry out ecological research, and restore habitat for native plants and animals. Our 900-acre property in central Fauquier County, which is permanently protected under a conservation easement, provides a beautiful and easily accessible environment for our programs. For more information, visit cliftoninstitute.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

Inspiring students to become future river stewards

Warrenton, Virginia (November 15, 2021) We are pleased to announce our participation with the Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) on a grant FOR was awarded from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). The goal of their grant is to implement a sustainable Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) program over three years in Culpeper and Fauquier County Public Schools. The grant supports NOAA’s mission to expand environmental literacy through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program. The Clifton Institute will participate by hosting a teacher-training workshop in summer 2022.

“Every year, hundreds of school children visit our property to learn about Virginia’s plants and animals, but we don’t usually get to spend a lot of time with their teachers,” says Dr. Eleanor Harris, Managing Director The Clifton Institute. “We’re excited to work with Friends of the Rappahannock to teach teachers about watershed conservation and about how to engage their students with this important issue.” 

FOR’s new Upper Rappahannock Educator Manager, April Harper, will be working with local partner organizations like Clifton Institute as well as teachers and public school staff to integrate MWEEs into the schools. For more information about the Upper Rappahannock B-WET program, you can email April Harper at april.harper@riverfriends.org. If you are interested in learning more about MWEE programs watershed wide, contact FOR’s education team education@riverfriends.org or visit riverfriends.org.

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The Clifton Institute is a Northern Virginia-based non-profit whose mission is to inspire a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature, to study the ecology of our region, to restore habitat, and to conserve native biodiversity. We provide environmental education to people of all ages, carry out ecological research, and restore habitat for native plants and animals. Our 900-acre property in central Fauquier County, which is permanently protected under a conservation easement, provides a beautiful and easily accessible environment for our programs. For more information, visit cliftoninstitute.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram

Clifton Institute Offers Expanded Array of Fall Programs

There’s something for everyone at Clifton Institute.

Warrenton, Virginia (October 12, 2021) — Clifton Institute offers an expanded and diverse array of Fall programs for all ages. Each environmental education program is designed to be fun, engaging, and educational so that everyone leaves knowing a little bit more about the amazing plants and animals that call the Virginia Piedmont home.

Children can attend biweekly Nature School classes, Afterschool Adventures (new this year!), become a member of Nature Club, Piedmont Polliwogs, or come on a class trip with their schools. Adults and families can look forward to attending talks, walks, and workshops about wildflowers, native plants, raptors, nature journaling, and more.

  • After-school Adventures is the newest program being offered to students in grades 3-8 on the third Tuesday of each month. Activities will vary each month but will include science projects, art projects, and lessons in outdoor skills.

  • Nature Club meets on the first Saturday of each month and is especially designed for students in grades 6-12. Students will explore Clifton’s 900-acre field station, learn about local plants and animals, all while making new friends with others who love nature.

Monthly Hikes with a Naturalist, Family Nature Walks, and Bird Walks will appeal to adults and families alike. You can even zoom into one of the “OctoBIRD Fest” online discussions to learn about winter bird identification and the physics of bird songs. Many programs are free; others have a small fee with discounts offered to “Friends of the Clifton Institute,” which you can become with an annual donation of just $40.

Clifton Institute staff and volunteers work hard throughout the year, but especially in the fall and  winter. Volunteers are always welcome to help teach, remove invasive species, cut back overgrown vegetation, and conduct prescribed burns. In October, there’s something going on every Saturday for anyone who wants to help. You might see migratory birds as well as all sorts of native plants in their autumn colors. Anyone interested in participating in one of the many events or in becoming a volunteer can sign up at cliftoninstitute.org/events.

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The Clifton Institute is a Northern Virginia-based non-profit whose mission is to inspire a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature, to study the ecology of our region, to restore habitat, and to conserve native biodiversity. We provide environmental education to people of all ages, carry out ecological research, and restore habitat for native plants and animals. Our 900-acre property in central Fauquier County, which is permanently protected under a conservation easement, provides a beautiful and easily accessible environment for our programs. For more information, visit cliftoninstitute.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

New trees will improve environmental health and provide critical wildlife habitat

Warrenton, Virginia | April 10, 2021

This spring, Clifton Institute staff and volunteers will plant nearly 1000 trees at the organization’s field station in Warrenton, Virginia. The trees will be planted along creeks in a 100-acre grassland to create riparian buffers that will prevent soil erosion and improve water quality. In addition, the new trees will provide critical wildlife habitat, including shrubs for bird nest sites and tall trees for raptor perches. Many oaks and birches will be planted, which are important host plants for moth and butterfly caterpillars that provide great food for baby birds. The species of trees to be planted include:

  • Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
  • River Birch (Betula nigra)
  • Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
  • Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum)
  • Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

“This work will improve the quality of the habitat on our field station and will help us teach our community about the importance of native plants and riparian buffers,” said Bert Harris, Executive Director of the Clifton Institute. “We are so grateful for the help of our dedicated volunteers! We couldn’t do this without them.”

In all, the project will require 350 volunteer hours to complete. Throughout the year, the Clifton Institute provides many other nature-based volunteer opportunities, including bird box maintenance and monitoring, biodiversity surveys, education assistance, and more. Anyone interested in participating in tree planting or other volunteer events can sign up at cliftoninstitute.org/events.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Clifton Institute, click here.

To learn more about the Clifton Institute, visit cliftoninstitute.org.

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The Clifton Institute is a Northern Virginia-based non-profit whose mission is to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards, learn about the ecology of the northern Virginia Piedmont, and conserve native biodiversity. We accomplish this mission by providing environmental education to people of all ages, carrying out ecological research, and restoring habitat for native plants and animals. Our 900-acre property in central Fauquier County, which is permanently protected under a conservation easement, provides a beautiful and easily accessible environment for our programs. For more information, visit cliftoninstitute.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

The Clifton Institute offers financial assistance to families for nature camp programs

Warrenton, Virginia | March 8, 2021

This summer, the Clifton Institute is offering scholarships for environmental summer camp programs to families with children interested in spending time outdoors and learning about nature. These scholarships cover the full cost of tuition except for a $50 nonrefundable deposit per child and are currently available for two summer camp programs:

  • Young Scientists Research Experience — Students engage in inquiry-based, hands-on learning as they develop their own research questions, collect and analyze data, and present their results, all under the guidance of an experienced mentor. This program is available to youth and young adults ages 13 to 18 and will take place June 21-25.
  • Young Explorers — Naturalists at the Clifton Institute help children explore the organization’s field station to learn about the plants and animals that live in the northern Virginia Piedmont. This program is geared toward youth ages 7 to 12 and has two one-week sessions available during the month of July.

“Environmental stewardship is critical for the health of future generations, and that stewardship begins when children and young adults have opportunities to engage with nature,” says Alison Zak, education associate for the Clifton Institute. “The Clifton Institute is committed to bringing outdoor experiences to all people in hopes of creating a stronger and more diverse generation of conservation advocates.”

Summer camp scholarship applications will be accepted until June 1, 2021. In addition to these camps, the Clifton Institute provides many free educational programs monthly for people of all ages, including Piedmont Polliwogs, a pre-K program that includes an outdoor story time and short nature walk; Walk With a Naturalist, a guided nature walk for people ages 12 and older; and Mindful Naturalists, a program series for adults created to inspire mindful observation and nature appreciation; among many others. To see a full list of Clifton Institute events, click here.

To read more about the summer camp scholarship opportunities, click here.

To learn more about the Clifton Institute, visit cliftoninstitute.org.

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The Clifton Institute is a Northern-Virginia based nonprofit dedicated to inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards, learning about the ecology of the northern Virginia Piedmont, and conserving native biodiversity. We accomplish this mission by providing environmental education to people of all ages, carrying out ecological research, and restoring habitat for native plants and animals. Our 900-acre property in central Fauquier County, which is permanently protected under a conservation easement, provides a beautiful and easily accessible environment for our programs. For more information, visit cliftoninstitute.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram

Land management practices can help protect salamanders and other amphibians

Warrenton, Virginia | February 1, 2021

Increasing urbanization is threatening Spotted Salamanders and other amphibians, according to a newly released report from the Clifton Institute. Spotted Salamanders live in deciduous forests and rely on vernal pool habitats for breeding. Human activity such as urbanization is adversely impacting these key Spotted Salamander habitats in the following ways:

  • Deforestation decreases the amount of habitat available to Spotted Salamanders.
  • Forest fragmentation cuts off Spotted Salamander populations from each other, leading to inbreeding.
  • Roads crossing through Spotted Salamander habitat make them vulnerable to vehicle traffic.
  • Spotted Salamanders absorb chemicals through their skin more easily than other animals, making them especially vulnerable to pollutants and changes in water acidity.

“Spotted Salamanders are a special part of our local ecosystem. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for them to find places to breed in areas that are too developed,” said Eleanor Harris, managing director of the Clifton Institute. “The good news is that there are a few simple actions we can all take to create and protect their habitat so that Spotted Salamanders can continue to find a home in Northern Virginia.”

The study finds that once 30 percent of the land within 250 meters of a vernal pool has been developed, Spotted Salamander were no longer able to breed. Actions that land managers, developers and others can take to help protect Spotted Salamanders and their habitat include:

  • Protecting land through conservation easements
  • Directing traffic in key areas to help salamanders cross roads safely
  • Constructing vernal pools to provide Spotted Salamanders with breeding habitat
  • Promoting healthy Spotted Salamander habitat by leaving woody debris

The Clifton Institute offers a variety land management resources that are available for free to assist landowners in cultivating healthy habitats where both people and wildlife can thrive. To view the Clifton Institute’s full list of land management resources, click here.

To view the full report, click here.

To learn more about the Clifton Institute, visit cliftoninstitute.org.

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The Clifton Institute is a Northern-Virginia based nonprofit dedicated to inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards, learning about the ecology of the northern Virginia Piedmont, and conserving native biodiversity. We accomplish this mission by providing environmental education to people of all ages, carrying out ecological research, and restoring habitat for native plants and animals. Our 900-acre property in central Fauquier County, which is permanently protected under a conservation easement, provides a beautiful and easily accessible environment for our programs. For more information, visit cliftoninstitute.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

Clifton Institute data will help determine the state of bird populations across North America

Warrenton, Virginia | January 5, 2021

The Clifton Institute, with the help of 24 volunteers, counted 104 species of birds and 24,447 total birds within a 15-mile-diameter circle as part of the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count initiative. This is the most species ever observed in this circle, which has been surveyed annually for 21 years, thanks to the high number of volunteers and the cold weather bringing birds out to forage. The data submitted by the Clifton Institute will be compiled with information collected from community scientists across the country to develop a snapshot of the state of bird populations across North America. Some of the most interesting bird species observed by participants of the Clifton Institute event included:

  • Palm Warbler (a first for the count)
  • House Wren (a first for the count)
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Rusty Blackbird
  • Greater Scaup
  • Short-eared Owl

The Christmas Bird Count is the country’s longest-running community science bird project, and the data collected from this initiative over the past 120 years illustrates how bird populations across the continent have changed throughout 12 decades. For example, in a recent study published in the journal Science, scientists analyzed data from Christmas Bird Counts and found that human activity has caused a loss of nearly three billion North American birds over the past 50 years, primarily because of habitat loss. Current data contributed by the Clifton Institute from the Warrenton region will help researchers continue to study the long-term health and status of bird populations and habitats, as well as develop conservation strategies.

“The Christmas Bird Count is one of the most important and longest-running biodiversity surveys in the world. It shows how volunteer birdwatchers can collect high quality data across the continent,” said Bert Harris, executive director of the Clifton Institute. “The Clifton Institute is proud to take part and contribute information that will be used to figure out how to protect the birds of North America.”

The Clifton Institute hosts many birding programs throughout the year, including bi-monthly bird walks that provide both novice and experienced birders the opportunity to discover many species of birds across various habitats at the Clifton Institute’s 900-acre field station. Past birding events have included Octobird Fest, a program for participants to learn winter bird identification techniques, and Warbler Song Boot Camp, to teach people how to identify warblers in spring migration. This February they are offering Birding Like Buddha, part of the Mindful Naturalists program series created to inspire mindful observation and nature appreciation.

To learn more about events at the Clifton Institute, click here.

To learn more about the Clifton Institute, visit cliftoninstitute.org.

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The Clifton Institute is a Northern Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards, learning about the ecology of the northern Virginia Piedmont, and conserving native biodiversity. We accomplish this mission by providing environmental education to people of all ages, carrying out ecological research, and restoring habitat for native plants and animals. Our 900-acre property in central Fauquier County, which is permanently protected under a conservation easement, provides a beautiful and easily accessible environment for our programs. For more information, visit cliftoninstitute.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.