Sharing our experiences

At October’s Young Naturalists session we were joined by Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust and Craig from the New Forest National Park Authority to share with them all the many wonderful and varied things we have been up to as a group over the past year.

Looking back it was great to see just how many places we have visited and how many different activities we have been able to do, which have largely been made possible by the generous funding from the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

It enabled Corinne to catch up with some of the older members of the group who have been with us for some time whilst also meeting some of our newer members. For Craig, it was a great way to tie in all our sessions with the John Muir award, something we have been working towards since our residential in Beaulieu last November.

The John Muir award is an environmental award scheme which focuses on wild spaces, encouraging people to connect with nature and enjoy and care for the landscape around them. John Muir was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, glaciologist and early advocate for preserving the wilderness of the United States. Muir was instrumental in the foundation of the National Parks system in America and since the first was established at Yellowstone in 1872, 6,555 protected areas have been created across the globe including 15 National Parks within the UK.

The award encourages people to connect with, enjoy, and care for wild places through four challenges:

  • Discovering a wild place
  • Exploring its wildness
  • Conserving it
  • Sharing your experiences

We shared a short powerpoint presentation with Corinne and Craig, the slides of which can be seen below in this blog, with the group adding their comments or highlights as we talked about all the things we had done over the past year. Our discovering has taken us far and wide:

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Discovering the wild spaces around us

We have been able to venture across the New Forest to Beaulieu, visited Needs Ore Marshes, walked up to our local Rockford and Ibsley Commons, explored the chalk downland of Martin Down and headed into Dorset to Brownsea Island, Shell Bay and Kimmeridge. Finally, as well as our trips away we have spent a considerable amount of time here on the reserve, discovering the many wonderful habitats Blashford has to offer.

Whilst exploring the many wild places mentioned above we have been lucky enough to do a number of activities, learning about moths, pond and river life, farm life, the night sky, the history of falconry, fossils, the wildlife in rock pools and the flora and fauna found on chalk downland. Just to name a few!

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The group have taken part in a number of conservation activities, with highlights including building lots of new bird boxes which replaced a number of old ones on the reserve, assisting with the bird box monitoring and beach cleans. We do enjoy a good beach clean!YN Slide 5 TS

One of our group members, Megan, nominated the group for the Waitrose Community Matters Fund with the funds raised going towards repairing the current dipping pond here on the reserve.

Finally we needed to share our experiences with others, and inviting Craig and Corinne to the session was part of this. A number of the group take photos for me to share via the Blashford Blog and they are usually obliging in having their photos taken for Twitter, Instagram and the blog…

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Their best sharing though has to be the video a number of the group took part in, where they voiced their own opinions of the group and the activities we get up to. If you haven’t yet seen it, it is available here:

After talking through the presentation, we headed outside and the group led a pond dip with Corinne and Craig.

The John Muir award has been perfect for the group as so many of the activities we do fit in with one or more of the four categories. It doesn’t however need to be completed over such a wide geographical area or such a long time; a wild place could be school grounds or a green space or park in an urban area as well as a National Park or stretch of coast, whilst working towards the introductory discovery level of the award over a year meant a number of the group could achieve the minimum time commitment of four days even if they missed a session or two. It is an accessible award to work to!

For more information about the John Muir award please visit their website.

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Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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Back to Beaulieu…

At the end of November we headed back to the Countryside Education Trust‘s Home Farm in Beaulieu for another two night Young Naturalists residential. With a few different people to our last visit in May, we had plans to re-visit some of the activities and places we enjoyed earlier in the year, whilst also doing something a little bit different. Here’s what we got up to…

After meeting on the Friday night, we woke up early on Saturday morning to a heavy frost. We had set some mammal traps the night before in the hope of catching a wood mouse or a bank vole, but given how cold it was overnight were relieved to find these were all empty!

Mammal trapping

Emptying our empty mammal traps!

Jess and Megan went off in search of some frosty photos whilst we cooked breakfast:

We then headed over to the Needs Ore Marshes, which form part of the North Solent National Nature Reserve for a beach clean in the sunshine. The group spent about an hour litter picking smaller items (sadly and not surprisingly there was an awful lot of plastic on the shoreline) and also dragging some of their more larger finds back along the shore to where we had based ourselves, including a rather large lobster pot and a rather large sheet of plastic! They didn’t seem too phased when I said we had to take everything back to the track to be collected on Monday by Reserves Officer Adam Wells…

We managed to find time to explore the shoreline for some more natural finds, discovering this sea urchin and oystercatcher skull amongst lots of other shells, crabs legs and more:

After lunch we headed over to the bird hides to see what else we could spot. We had begun a bird list that morning and had already spotted 33 different species on the drive to Needs Ore marshes and whilst on the shoreline: black headed gull, mute swan, mallard, blackbird, dunnock, rook, pheasant, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, peacock (!), red legged partridge, jackdaw, magpie, blue tit, long tailed tit, buzzard, lapwing, brent goose, oystercatcher, pied wagtail, knot, meadow pipit, common tern, little egret, chaffinch, stonechat, cormorant, turnstone, wheatear, robin, crow, kestrel and raven.

Heading to the hides

Heading to the hides

Whilst in and around the hides we added the following birds to our list: grey heron, curlew, coot, wigeon, Canada goose, black tailed godwit, shoveler, starling, goldfinch, gadwall, great tit, teal, tufted duck, pochard, pintail, shelduck, goldcrest, goosander, song thrush, wren, herring gull and greater black backed gull.

The most exciting spots however were the marsh harrier, which we watched hunting over the reed bed and a scaup:

Scaup by Megan Conway

Scaup by Megan Conway

We had been very lucky with the weather, although cold the sky had been a beautiful blue all day and we made the most of the photo opportunities the light provided us with.

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Sunlight through the reed bed by Jess Parker

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Moon by Jess Parker

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Lobster pot by Jess Parker

We then headed back to Home Farm, for an early evening astronomy talk by Steve Tonkin, who gave us a guided tour of the night sky and entertained us with tales of Greek mythology.

Astronomy talk

Astronomy talk with Steve Tonkin

After the talk we headed outside to observe the night sky using binoculars and a selection of telescopes Steve had bought with him, spotting Cassiopeia, the Seven Sisters and the Andromeda galaxy. Whilst outside Talia set up her camera and took some fantastic photos of the sky.

On the Sunday, we met James from the CET for another fun farm feed session, assisting with some of the feeding tasks and collecting eggs. It was brilliant to once again get up close to the different animals.

We were then joined by Paul from Amews Falconry, who delighted the group with another fantastic talk on the history of falconry and a spectacular flying display. We were able to see up close a peregrine falcon, North American red tailed hawk, kestrel, European eagle owl, harris hawk and gyrfalcon and learnt lots about each bird.

Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

European eagle owl by Talia Felstead

European eagle owl by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon 2 by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Peregrine falcon by Talia Felstead

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Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

North American red tailed hawk by Talia Felstead

Whilst listening to Paul’s talk, we spotted house sparrow and marsh tit which took our grand total of bird species for the weekend up to 59.

In the afternoon, we headed into the forest to meet Craig Daters from the New Forest National Park Authority, to discover more about the wild places on our doorstep. We met Craig at the pony sales yard and had a look around, learning more about commoning, conservation grazing and the New Forest pony.

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Discovering more about the New Forest and commoning, with Craig from the New Forest National Park Authority

We then headed from Shatterford towards Denny Wood, pausing to discuss the New Forest’s different habitats, namely at this point heathland, mire and streams before reaching the woodland and engaging in some sensory activities:

After taking the time to explore this spot, something everyone in the group seemed to really enjoy, we discussed conservation designations with the help of a game and the different threats to national parks and other protected landscapes.

We had met up with Craig primarily as the group have begun to work towards their John Muir Award, and whilst the 10 minute video clip we watched on the Friday evening was a good introduction to the award, it was great to get outside and think about John Muir, the award and the special qualities of the wild spaces on our doorstep with someone else, so thank you Craig for joining us! We will be exploring other parts of the Forest over the coming months as we work towards completing the award.

It was then time to head back to Home Farm at the end of another busy weekend. the group had a lovely time, with their particular highlights being the time spent on the shore near Needs Ore and the activities in the Forest with Craig.

Shoreline

Exploring the shoreline

Thanks to Talia, Megan and Jess for taking lots of great photos over the weekend and for sharing them with me so I could include them on the blog. Thanks too to Craig from the New Forest NPA, James from the CET, Steve Tonkin and Paul from Amews Falconry for joining us and enthusing the group with their different specialisms.

Finally, thank you to volunteers Michelle, Geoff, Emily and Jonathan for giving up their weekend to join us, we definitely couldn’t offer a residential without your help and hard work!

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.