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 ūüôā

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 Рand 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 Рplease 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 ūüôā !

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 ūüėČ ) 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 ūüėČ

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 ūüėČ

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!

Wild Play!

Last week saw the last of this summers “Wild Days Out” activity days – this time with a team challenge theme for the older age group and simply outdoor, “wild” play for the younger ones the following day. The weather was kind to us on both days and fun was definitely had by all!

Our Wild Challenge began with deciding our teams and warming up with some riddles, anagrams and team flag making. It was then out for some problem solving games and activities before competing to be the first to light a small fire, boil a “Kelly Kettle” and make the leaders the best cup of tea ;o)

190821 WildChallenge_Play_Tracy Standish (2)

After lunch the fun really began as we headed over to our den building area, not to make dens, but rather to attempt to construct ballista/catapults (from the den building poles, rope and old bicycle inner tubes) in preparation for battle!

Our teams came up with quite different designs, both effective, but neither catapult could compete with Sammy’s inventive use of his own legs¬†and feet in conjunction with the inner tube for projectile distance!

190821_22WildChallenge_PlayWDOJD (6)

With inventions completed, tested and fine tuned, our teams were armed with sponges and buckets of water and the Great Battle of Blashford commenced!

And I wasn’t going to just sit around supervising letting them all have the fun!

The following day our Wild Play began in the same den building area, this time with den building, tree climbing and leafy art and clay creations.

Tree climbing by Tracy Standish190821 WildChallenge_Play_Tracy Standish (1)

After lunch some of the children asked about pond dipping – something that everyone joined in in the end (you can’t beat a good pond dip when your 6!).¬†Those waiting a turn or ready¬†for something else spent a lovely time playing in the sand pit or bug hunting – the “tunnel” at the back of the centre was a child magnet in this respect, festooned with spiders and large white butterfly caterpillars as it was!

 

This filled most of the rest of the day so we finished up by taking down the dens and had just enough time left for another water fight, this time dispensing with catapults and settling for simply cobbing wet sponges at each other!

190821_22WildChallenge_PlayWDOJD (24)

A bit soggy, the children left tired and happy and the leaders were dry by the time they locked up at the end of the day!

The next Wild Days Out are scheduled for October half term with Autumn themed activities – event bookings on “Eventbrite” will be opened next week:

BIG Autumn Adventure for 7-12 year old children on Tuesday 29th October – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-big-autumn-adventure-tickets-70779598685?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

little Autumn Adventure for 5-8 year old children on Thursday 31st October – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wild-days-out-little-autumn-adventure-tickets-70765239737?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

 

Messing about in boats…

…with boats, out of boats and under boats!

Yes, the last week of the summer holiday saw us, and the children on “Wild Days Out” as well of course (I have to justify somehow), taking the plunge, quite literally, into the Dockens Water river again. The theme this week?

“River Adventure”…

Starting off in the classroom with paperboat folding and colouring/waterproofing them with wax crayons we were then ready to head down to the water to test them out and do some kick sample surveying for wildlife:

Plenty of invertebrates were of course caught but, as always, it was the fish which captured most children’s interest – with the exception of those few who caught either a leech (always exciting for their “yuck” or “eeuuurgh”¬†factor), beautiful demoiselle or golden ringed dragonfly nymph (both similarly exciting and always elicit a “what is THAT?!” response).

On the fish front by far the most numerous species was minnow, but bullhead, as always, were much in evidence and we are also seeing¬†signs of a good recruitment to the brown trout population this year too. Fishy highlights were an elver (second we’ve caught kick sampling this year, and again, a promising sign that they have had a good year) and a relatively large stone loach (easily identified by the barbels with which it finds its invertebrate prey amongst the silt and stones at the bottom of the river at night).

By this time and being, surprisingly, relatively dry and warm still we quit while we were ahead to stop for lunch – and then equip and prepare ourselves for the real adventure that was to come: coracle paddling and snorkelling!

The coracle had been pre-prepared this year by Tracy with one of our volunteers, Rex, who fulfilled a life long ambition by coming in over a couple of mornings to create and then paddle it himself! Thank you Rex! Thanks also to the Spinnaker Sailing Club for providing us with a loan of buoyancy aids for our intrepid adventurers to wear, “just in case”. As it was most children did manage to stay in the coracle, and the only time it actually sank was when Tracy, somewhat optimistically it has to be said, tried sending 3 children off in it!

Our craft, constructed from some of our willow pollarded last winter, was fitted out with a seat scavenged from a building site by another volunteer, Geoff, and then lined with some left over pond liner from a pond project at Testwood Lakes (pond liner works just as well at keeping water out of a boat as it does in a pond). And despite some heavy use survived completely unscathed Рalthough to be fair, I did not actually have a go in it myself this year, and, had I done so, things might have ended differently!

180829RiverAdventure by J Day (6a) - Copy

So, with a little disappointment it has to be said, I didn’t make it into the coracle this year. Not too much disappointment however because the only reason I didn’t was that I was having far too much fun snorkelling beneath the peaty waters to spend too much time above it!

Having¬†enjoyed (honest!)¬†a very cold and wet weekend camping a¬†couple of¬†days before I was still tired and, with the weather grey as it was, I woke up and came to work with a certain amount of apathy towards the idea of deliberately submerging myself in the river again. However we’d said we’d do it so I reluctantly donned my wetsuit and we made our way down and in… and I was SO glad that I had! I, and everyone who was brave (or foolish) enough to come in with me had a ball and we saw SO MANY fish! As many as we had thought we had caught kick-sampling earlier it really was a very small fraction of just what was in the river!

180829RiverAdventure by J Day (4) - Copy

So you think they look a bit crazy? You have to be a little bit crazy to even think of doing this!

And its amazing just how much you can see, even in shallow water!

Although the deep water is fun too – the trick is to just swim/crocodile crawl up stream so all of the disturbed silt/sediment washes back behind you and definitely don’t try and snorkel down stream of a load of kick-sampling river dippers!

Wonderful, unusual, wildlife sights await those who brave the water!

180830WDORiverAdventureII by J Day (19) - Copy180829RiverAdventure by J Day (1) - Copy

It was cold, but so worth it and well done to all of the children who joined us in the river this summer Рyou are all part of what is a very small and highly elite group of people who have snorkelled and paddled the Dockens Water river.

You may call yourselves the “Dockens Divers” and, quite rightly, be proud of your achievement!

 

 

 

Another school holiday “survived”!

I’m sure there are a few parents, and not a few grandparents who can relate to that blog title ;-¬†D

In this case it does actually refer to the theme of our school holiday activity “Wild Days Out” this half term, which, on Wednesday and Friday, explored the pre-requisites of survival – shelter, water, fire and food…

Starting with SHELTER our teams were tasked with designing and constructing a waterproof shelter using the minimum number of poles. Shelters complete the children entered them for a quick test deluge courtesy of a watering can. The finished designs were as varied as the children themselves, some more effective than others!

Shelters completed the next task was to set about trying to clean some rather disgustingly leaf, stick and mud ridden¬†WATER using an old¬†bottle, an old (clean – at least to start with!) sock and whatever other materials they could source from the nature reserve around them. The results were surprisingly at least as varied as the shelters had been but all of the teams really enjoyed this challenge, even those whose end result somewhat resembled the bottom of a beer barrel! The next step would of course been to boil and then drink it, but, rightly or wrongly my risk assessment of the activity stopped us at the filtration stage…

After lunch the children some children just relaxed and enjoyed each others company whilst others set out on some ad-hoc bug hunting in the lush vegetation of our Willow Wood glade, particularly enjoying all of the damselflies that took flight whenever they charged through the grass, Thomas employing his hat to catch them surprisingly effectively!

FIRE next Рagain with mixed results, although to be fair everyone did get there in the end.

On Wednesday, with the older children, we even got as far as making and baking some damper bread for our FOOD before packing up and heading home. Didn’t quite get that far with the younger ones, but everyone had a lovely day, including the staff. The highlight? definitely the water filtration challenge!

 

Due to a combination of staff sickness, staff leave and generally just being VERY busy¬†I never did manage a Wild Easter Wild Days Out blog, so, just for the record, here are some pictures of what we got up to in April and do please take a look at this short film that was made on the day – surprisingly good given that I had to speak in it ūüėČ – https://youtu.be/6I2MukbbMWI

We’re busy planning our summer holiday programme now and will be releasing activities and dates shortly, so watch this space!

 

 

 

 

February round up

We’ve had a busy half term, with Winter Craft themed Wild Days Out, an evening under the stars (of which there really were many!) with the Fordingbridge Astronomers and our usual Young Naturalists monthly meeting.

Our Wild Days Out saw the children getting very messy in the clay pit, den building, fire lighting,¬†creating dream catchers and baskets from willow and ice art sculptures. Lots of arty and hands on activities that involved natural materials! We even attempted to make burn out bowls in the fire, using hollowed out pieces of elder as straws. It was a slow process…

Our Young Naturalists did a great job making bird boxes, using a plan to mark up their planks of wood, cutting up the individual pieces and nailing them all together. The bird boxes along with a number made by the volunteers will replace some of the older ones on the reserve which are a little past their best, and will be a welcome addition. Thank you guys for all your hard work!

We also spent quite a while watching the kingfisher catching newts from the Education Centre pond – a very good distraction! The pond has become a favourite hunting spot for at least two birds, which are best viewed from inside the Centre as they¬†don’t hang around¬†for long when disturbed – hopefully they will leave a few newts for us to catch over the summer!

kingfisher

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

The wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are probably now at their best and definitely worth a visit, adding a welcome splash of yellow to the woodland floor.

daffodils

Wild daffodils near the Woodland Hide

The feeders at the Woodland Hide are still being visited by three brambling and at least one lesser redpoll, whilst a number of reed bunting have been foraging around on the ground.

Goldeneye, black necked grebe and goosander are still present on Ibsley Water whilst lapwing numbers are increasing, with some beginning to display over the lake with their distinctive flip-floppy flight. The water pipit has also been viewed from Tern Hide.

We’re expecting the bittern and great white egret to leave us any day now – if indeed they are still here! The bittern was seen on Sunday whilst Jim’s most recent view of the great white was last Wednesday.

A tawny owl has also decided to roost at the southern end of Ivy Lake, best viewed from the last window in Ivy South Hide.¬†Noticed on Sunday, it has been there most mornings and still there some evenings so it’s definitely worth a scan of the trees on the lake edge.

Finally, thank you very much to Dave Levy for sharing with us this sequence of photos of a pair of great crested grebe displaying on Ivy Lake. Spring must definitely be here!

 

Challenging and Wild Play!

This week has seen our summer programme of¬†Wild Days Out¬†events come to an end – they’ve been a lot of fun! We began on Monday with a Wild Challenge for the older children, where in teams they had to explore the reserve and¬†tackle different challenges on the way – they were certainly up for it!

We spent slightly longer than planned making our all important team flags, mainly because we decorated them with paints made from natural finds – charcoal, the baked clay that had lined our pit furnace, chalk and blackberries. We also collected leaves and bracken to print with, and painted our hands and feet!

Whilst finishing off our flags in the classroom, we had a go at our first challenge of the day, some dingbats, or visual word puzzles of well known words or phrases.  Volunteer Cheryl gave the two teams a great example to get them going and by the time we headed outside the boys were just ahead by one point, as they had got all their dingbats right and gained a bonus point by finishing first, it was starting to get competitive!

Dingbats

Dingbats – forever; double decker bus; Jack in the box; banana split; snowball; lazy bones; ants in your pants; misunderstanding; four wheel drive; up hill struggle; Cheryl’s example, mayonnaise

Heading outside our challenges got more serious and we played the chocolate game, where you have throw a six with a dice,¬†dress up and try to cut a bar of chocolate using a knife and a fork whilst everyone else in¬†the team keeps rolling for a six. If someone else rolls one, you have to change over. The boys were very vocal with this game, but unfortunately both teams were so good at rolling sixes the girls only managed to cut two pieces and the boys one, meaning they were neck and neck. Here’s Millie demonstrating the chocolate game in her very fetching health and safety gear, much more exciting to wear than a woolly hat and scarf!

Chocolate game!

The chocolate game, with a health and safety twist

We then headed to the woodland for two more challenges, a plant identification memory test and some fire lighting. Both teams were brilliant at their plant challenge, remembering most of the leaves, grasses and flowers hidden under the tea towel, although we did give them both a second sneaky peak!

It was then onto fire lighting, with one point awarded for creating a spark and two for lighting a piece of cotton wool.  All were brilliant at persevering with the strike sticks, as you do need to apply a fair amount of pressure to create a spark, but the girls just crept into the lead with everyone in their team managing to light a piece of cotton wool.

We finished the day by setting a trail for the other team to follow, with points awarded for how good their trail was, e.g. could the other team actually follow it successfully, and how well they hid at the end. Amber, Connor and Max all gained an extra point each for being expert hiders!

Whilst waiting for the other team to set their trail, we played two more games: magic carpet, where you have to flip over the ‘carpet’ you’re standing on¬†without putting your foot on the ground; and human knot, where you have to hold hands with each other and un-tangle yourselves back into a circle, without letting go:

Both teams fully embraced the challenges and had a lot of fun Рalthough the girls just beat the boys to it by a whopping one point, they were all brilliant and equally rewarded at the end!

Arrows

Arrow on our tracking trail

Yesterday the younger children joined us for a Wild Play session, a lovely way to finish off the holidays! We began by making kites then headed outside to see if they would fly – luckily there was just enough of a breeze:

Kite flying!

Kite flying, with just enough of a breeze!

We spent most of the day in our camp area, making paints, decorating flags, tree climbing, den building, bug hunting¬†and fire lighting, before having an afternoon popcorn treat! We tried flavouring our popcorn with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar, which needs a little bit of perfecting but was very tasty…

We had a couple of great wildlife spots whilst in the meadow, catching an awesome Dark bush cricket, which hung around long enough for a photo, and spying a brilliant Goat moth caterpillar, which we quickly re-located to a safer spot. The Goat moth caterpillars feed principally on willow, a species we have plenty of!

Goat moth caterpillar

Goat moth caterpillar

We finished off our play day with a paddle in the river to cool off, and a game of hide and seek.

There will be more exciting Wild Days Out in the October Half Term Рkeep an eye on the website for details:

http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/whats-on

Wild and Watery Days Out!

As promised by Jim, here’s a quick round up of what we’ve been up to over the last couple of weeks. With the¬†holidays in full swing, we’ve been busy entertaining a number of holiday clubs, running family events and of course leading our Wild Days Out, which are offered in partnership with New Forest District Council.

We got off to a fishy start, with a marine themed Wild Day Out, complete with willow weaving, fish printing and the all important sand castle competition! We began with a closer look at some fish, before Jim demonstrated how to create a fish print:

Whilst waiting to paint and print our fish, we used willow to weave simple fish shapes which were then tied with wool to a willow fishing rod. We then had to go fishing from the boat!

Willow fish on a stick 3

Willow fish on a rod

After lunch we creatively sculpted beach scenes from sand, adding natural materials to them creating volcanoes, caves, sea horses, sand people and more!

Our Marine Madness and Fishy Fun Wild Day Out was followed by a family Wild Play Day, where we made rush and paper boats, caught fish in the river and sploshed around, made clay models and had a go at leaf bashing to create beautiful leaf prints on fabric:

Last week we challenged the older children on our Wild Day Out to weave a coracle out of Blashford willow before testing it out on the Dockens Water, an activity thoroughly enjoyed by all, especially as it had rained the night before and the river was up…

After practising our boat making skills in the classroom by making rush and paper boats¬† and rafts using corks to float plastic cows on, we inspected the coracle made earlier in the year by our volunteers and lined by our Young Naturalists, and headed down to the river for a demonstration on how to loose your paddle by Jim…

Jim showing us how its done 3

Jim showing us how not to do it! Note the paddle wedged at the base of the tree…

In groups we wove two more coracle frames from the willow which had been soaking in the river to make it nice and bendy, before adding on the liner.

It was then time for the moment we’d all been waiting for, to test our coracles on the river to see if they floated:

Which of course the did! They were however slightly flatter after we’d all had a go and the boys had purposefully sunk one on their turn…

It was a lot of fun! As the coracles were still floatable and Spinnaker Sailing Club didn’t need the life jackets they¬†had very kindly lent us¬†back in a hurry, we decided to use them again the next day with the younger group. After some pond dipping in the morning we headed down to the river to test our paper boats, river dip and try out the coracles. This time, Jim demonstrated how to do it properly!

It was then time for the children to have their go:

They all thoroughly enjoyed it! Thanks again to Spinnaker Sailing Club for the loan of their life jackets.

There are more fun filled Wild Days Out to come over the summer holidays, details are in our What’s On which can be picked up from a number of local ‘outlets’, the Centre or viewed here:

160616 Blashford Whats On Jul-Sept TS