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Marshland High School science students learn from the very best




Year 7 science students at a Fenland secondary school have learnt the truth of the phrase ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ after writing to legendary wildlife broadcaster Sir David Attenborough with a query about their studies – and receiving a handwritten reply.

When teacher Ellen Castley’s class at Marshland High School were learning about birds, they wanted to know why it is that birds of prey, who use their talons to catch their food, are so called, rather than being known as birds of predator.

They decided to try their luck with an inquiry direct to the top of the natural history knowledge tree, at his home address in Richmond, Surrey, and were thrilled when the 95-year-old got back to them.

Alfie Baxter (12) and teacher Ellen Castley with the letter from Sir David Attenborough. (48055545)
Alfie Baxter (12) and teacher Ellen Castley with the letter from Sir David Attenborough. (48055545)

"Eagles 'prey' on smaller mammals, who are also called their 'prey',” he wrote. “'Predators' is a noun meaning, roughly, hunters. So 'birds of hunters' makes no sense; 'birds of prey' is very accurate - and shorter. Best wishes, David Attenborough.”

“The class are overjoyed, as am I, that he replied,” said Miss Castley, who teaches science at Marshland, which is part of the West Norfolk Academies Trust, which runs 11 schools across the borough. “I can't stop telling everyone!”

Attenborough’s multi-award winning broadcasting career dates back to the 1950s, and he has made numerous programmes covering all aspects of the natural world, with some of his most famous being Life on Earth and The Blue Planet. This year saw the BBC broadcast his most recent series, A Perfect Planet.

Natural world icon Sir David Attenborough has written to students at a Fenland school. (48055542)
Natural world icon Sir David Attenborough has written to students at a Fenland school. (48055542)

Although best known for his programmes about the animal kingdom, in 1998 Attenborough made a 10-part series called The Life of Birds.

Alfie Baxter, 12, with the letter from Sir David Attenborough. (48055539)
Alfie Baxter, 12, with the letter from Sir David Attenborough. (48055539)


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