Family River Splash!

We couldn’t let half term pass without trying to soak some children in a river… and so that’s (almost) exactly what we did!

The weather has been quite changeable recently, but thankfully this morning began bright and sunny. I got to Blashford and enlisted the help of Jacki one of our wonderful volunteers who was here for the regular volunteer party, to help me take all the equipment down to the river. Wheelbarrow full (although maybe not quite as full as Jim manages), and we trundled off to the river. ‘Danger’ deep water flags were set out… we don’t actually want to lose children in the deep bits, and nets, trays, ID guides too.

On arrival at the Education Centre the children engrossed themselves in colouring and water-themed word searches, and once we had everybody we got started. Our first stop was to find some rushes to make some rush boats to float down the river. After demonstrating how to fold the rushes and wrap them to secure the ‘boat’ and create a mast we all searched for a suitable leaf to be a sail. Some rush boats ended up a little top heavy!

We walked down to the river and followed the meander to race our boats and to see how the water feels whooshing past our boots in the deeper sections of meander. As we walked back to the bridge we hunted for pooh sticks, and with a yell of THREE, TWO, ONE, DROP! we raced them under the bridge.

I explained how to river dip, and what we might find, and then everybody got into the river again! It wasn’t long before the depth of water inside some people’s wellies was actually deeper than the water they were stood in, but they didn’t seem to mind!

We caught a lot of little freshwater shrimp, and all the families did well at using the guides to identify what they caught, and then we manage to catch some tiny little bullhead fish too.

Nobody really wanted to get out of the river, so we overran a little bit, and did a final pooh sticks challenge to finish. Once the welly boot water had been tipped back into the river it was time to wash hands and have some lunch. Well timed too, as not long after we stopped it started to rain.

Easter fun – family pond dipping!

Whoever is in charge of the weather really favoured us last Wednesday, we had beautiful sunshine for our family pond dipping day. Initially our plan was to run a morning session, but because of demand we opened up an afternoon slot as well, it’s encouraging to see so many people wanting to participate in nature based learning activities during the school holidays.

A family being helped by one of our brilliant volunteers

After a quick chat about health and safety, and how to pond dip responsibly we gathered around the pond. I ensured the children knew how to supervise their adults properly, and with the help of volunteers Nora and Louise we had a brilliant session. The children quickly got to grips with identifying the creatures they found, so ‘water spider!?!!’ was soon correctly identified as dragonfly nymph (they do have rather long legs!), and ‘swimming lizard!!’ got recognised as an amphibian and subsequently a newt.

Our pond is rather weedy at the moment, which can mean that after a few sweepy figure of 8 motions with the pond net it can be quite a job to haul the net out of the water. Collecting weed (and pond snot!) can pay off though, as lots of invertebrates do love to hide in it.

Catching a lot of weed, and pond creatures!

One particular family seemed to have the monopoly on newt catching, and although I think every family in the afternoon session did catch a newt…. they managed to catch 8! The highlight was a little boy catching a newt eft, which started discussions on amphibian lifecycles, and where pet axolotls originally come from. We caught a huge diversity of species, and just before the afternoon session started we even saw a large adult grass snake slide across the grass by the pond.

Smooth newt

All animals were safely returned back to the pond at the end of the sessions. We are very clear to highlight responsible handling, and it is always wonderful to see people treating their finds with care. My personal highlight of the day was a parent who came up and thanked me at the end, as he had never been pond dipping and had always wanted to do it with somebody who was knowledgeable. We didn’t lose any children or parents to the pond, and everybody left with smiles on their faces!

Hide opening update and events for children and families this summer

Having satisfied our adult visitors last week with the long-awaited opening of the hides, out on site our attention has turned to maintaining access to said hides despite the unstoppable force of nature that is the bramble and stinging nettle growth during the perfect growing conditions of sunshine and rain! The re-opening generally seems to have gone down well and everyone is happy to be in the hides again after all this time, even though there is not a HUGE amount to see from them at the moment. Everyone does also seem to be behaving themselves and respecting everyone else at present, which is also pleasing, and reassuring, to see!

A plea however!

Understandably, and in line with our request to keep the hides well ventilated while in use, the windows are being opened up but could EVERYONE also please make sure that they close the hide windows behind them when they leave (also in line with our request on the notices outside and within each hide). Last week was ridiculously hot and it was not unexpected therefore to find them all open at the end of the day, but the weather has broken, it is not so hot, and we are getting some very heavy downpours and it is very disappointing to find the majority of windows in the majority of hides all still wide open when closing up, even when it is chucking it down with rain outside (and inside!) the hides.

Grass snake basking outside Ivy North Hide on Tuesday morning

Elsewhere on the reserve, across the lichen heath to be exact, you can’t help but be amazed (I can’t anyway) by the field of gold that it has become over the last couple of weeks, primarily with the perforate St Johns-wort pictured above, but with a scattering of nectar rich ragwort towering above them and hawkbits below.

Back in the office I have been juggling reduced staffing, volunteer availability, COVID-19 mitigation, testing and “pings” to work out what our summer holiday children’s activity programme will look like.

It was a bit of a complex tangle to unravel but I am delighted to say that, as things stand at present at least, yesterday afternoon bookings for a busy summer of pond and river dipping, den building, fire-lighting and mini-beasting went live!

Details and booking (which is essential for all of our events this summer) can now all be found in the Events section of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events (easiest way to find the Blashford Lakes entries is to use the “Location” filter, second from the bottom of the filter menu 😉

A word of warning – in recent months some of our visitors have had difficulties booking on to our events via their mobile phones. They get so far, including all of the form filling which is required, but then stall at payment and can get no further. This glitch is unfortunately beyond my control and more than a little frustrating, so please do use a computer or laptop to book places on the events if you can – and if you can’t and you do experience problems do please let us know and we will collate and pass on any feedback to those responsible for the website platform in hope that enough people fed up with it might generate some action to correct it! Fingers crossed it all just works though!

Looking forward to seeing some “old faces” again soon. Mind-boggling to think that our last Wild Days Out events were in February last year – see https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/winter-craft/! #

We’re looking forward to another summer of this at long last!