A Wild Day Out at last!

During the half-term school holiday of February 2020 we enjoyed some unseasonably mild, but very, very wet weather amidst the good company of children, both regulars and newcomers, and enjoyed some natural craft activities on our school holiday activity days known as “Wild Days Out” (see the blog post that followed it here:https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/winter-craft/).

Little did we know at the time that that would be the last for 18 months!

So it was with some trepidation, but mostly delight, that this summer holiday we finally held Wild Days Out again – Tracy at the beginning of the holidays with some den building and fire-lighting fun, me at the end with an aquatic adventure; pond dipping and river dipping with a difference.

The weather throughout August could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse, and I think it is fair to say that staff, volunteers and children all had a ball and that everyone involved was genuinely pleased to be back doing what we love! Yet another milestone in the road to pandemic recovery.

I love my job as an Education Officer, but even so it is not often that I will declare that all of the children that I work with are delightful, but, in this instance, they really were and it was so lovely to spend some time playing outdoors with them all, everyone sharing a love of and learning about nature 🙂

We started our Wild Day Out off at the pond with some pond dipping following on from some colouring, wordsearch, frog origami and pipe-cleaner dragonfly crafting activities while we waited for everyone to arrive and be registered. Given that the dipping pond we were using is only just more than two years old it amazes me every time we dip it just how much wildlife has already colonised it – and is colonising it. All of the children had memorable close up dragonfly encounters whilst being inspected by the southern and migrant hawkers standing guard over their territory!

Still as good as the pond is, and the promise it holds, I very much hope we are successful in raising enough money through our current boardwalk and pond replacement fundraising appeal to replace the neighbouring “original” dipping pond which, sadly, despite the incredible biodiversity it once held, no longer holds water and which has, during this very dry summer that we have had, now all but dried out completely.

We need to raise £5,000 to supplement some money which has already been secured, partly by a very generous donation from a regular supporter of, and visitor to, Blashford and if you would like to help us achieve this amount – and in doing so ensure that we are able to continue to offer incredible educational experiences and wildlife encounters for children and adults on Wild Days Out, school visits or events – please do visit our appeal page and donate to the project by following the link to the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/appeals/blashford-lakes-boardwalk-pond-appeal

A very heartfelt thank you to everyone who has already contributed to our appeal – as well as to everyone who I hope will now do so!

We spent a lot of time at the pond and what was particularly gratifying on this occasion especially was how long the children spent studying and identifying the invertebrates in their catch: all too often it is the “thrill of the hunt” which captivates them so this was great 🙂 !

Following lunch (which again was remarkably civilised for a Wild Day Out) we headed down to the river dipping area to explore the Dockens Water, pausing on route to make some soft rush boats on our way down, always a much loved, favourite and memorable past time!

Rush boats making – and a none too subtle hint of what was to come when we got to the river!

Boats sailed (see the video clip I posted in my Twitter feed here: https://twitter.com/JimDay22857614/status/1430944382287556616 !) we got on with the business of kick sampling to see what river wildlife could be found:

Sadly there was not as much wildlife to be found as we would normally expect to see, although more than enough to satisfy us on this occasion. I fear that a lot of “dam building” by visitors this summer may have excessively disturbed the river bed and thus dislodged the invertebrates – and some fish – who were sheltering under the cobbles and amidst the gravels that were used in the construction. Although I am reasonably confident that the wildlife itself is fine, and just resettled downstream, it has left our dipping area somewhat bereft of its usual abundance of life, and probably won’t be recolonised until we get some rainfall and the spate conditions which follow re-distributes the animals along the course of the river. There is a lot to be said for encouraging river play, and indeed I positively encourage it myself, but it should always be borne in mind that our actions can, and do, often have unintended consequences. Indeed it is due to the impacts that our river activity can have on the wildlife that within the nature reserve we very much limit our activity to one very small section of river.

With time marching on, the end of the session (and collection by parents) drawing closer it was time to take the plunge – quite literally – for those that wanted to, and were daft enough!

While some children (probably quite sensibly) continued fishing with their nets, a handful of us (lumping myself in this group as the biggest kid of the lot 😉 ) donned masks and snorkels to see what, if anything we could see…

Some of us were content to just put our faces in…

Some of us wanted to go further, but were not quite committed enough…

And some of us went for it!

And just for the record I did see fish – some little minnows which I was ridiculously excited to see as the exclamations through my snorkel would testify to all that were there to hear them!

And was it cold? Cor blimey, yes it was! A lot colder than the sea had been when I’d gone swimming with the family at Highcliffe a couple of days before hand!

A lot of fun though 😉

All being well the next Wild Day Out will be held during the October half-term holiday. Although the theme for the activities is yet to be decided they are likely to run on Tuesday 26th October (for 7-12 year olds) and Wednesday 27th October (for 5-8 year olds) if you want to pencil those dates in your diary! We’ll advertise and take bookings through the website as normal when we are ready: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events

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!