One of the key aims of the project at UWNR is to educate and engage young people in nature.

I have been working with Seeds4Success (http://www.seeds4success.org.uk) for most of 2017, doing small scale projects - read blog posts for details of these. This small, important and dynamic charity is run by Jaki Farrell. She is one of those people, unsung in our community, working with dedication to help young people grow and develop positively. Over the past 18 months I have worked carefully to select the right partner to fulfill this aim of the project at UWNR - Seeds4Success are a perfect fit.

Dormouse - Day One:

On April 11th 2017, we held our first proper day with a great group of young people. The focus of the day Dormice. What are they? How they behave? What they need? As well as learning about this marker species we did a practical activity, planting out honeysuckle, which is a key plant species for Dormice and is largely missing from UWNR.

 

The group....

Honeysuckle plugs being planted.

Honeysuckle plugs being planted.

Dormouse - Day Two:

On May 13th, 2017 we completed the Dormouse activities.  There were two key elements to the day - as follows:

Construct dormouse boxes using found and reclaimed materials - all the wood used is free from any preservatives and glue was not used. These boxes will be placed in hedgerows, hazel copses and dense wooded locations at UWNR, providing dormice with safe and secure summer nests sites. It is the hope that these nests will be used to raise young over the summer months.

So far hedgerows have been cut (on a rotation), archway platforms constructed and honeysuckle planted. Now with nest boxes in place, UWNR is additionally attractive to these charismatic mammals - we wait and hope!

The second part of the day focused on the young people completing assessment worksheets. These were based on the range of dormice activities carried out over the course of both days at UWNR. The young people will now each receive an ASDAN Environmental and Conservation Award. 

What really made this day so successful was the incredible work, before and during, of Jaki Farrell and her small team, Rob and Rose, from Seeds4Sucess. I cannot overstate the value of work that Jaki does - she is truly remarkable!

 

Kingfisher Hunting Perches: 

All and all it was a busy week at UWNR with young people from Seeds4Success. On Thursday May 11th, 2017 Jack and Sarah helped me build a range of hunting perches for the resident Kingfisher. We made these from hazel collected on site and placed them around the lake.

Fence Repair

In mid-July 2017, there is a group of younger children coming to UWNR - this being another project in the ongoing work I do with Seeds4Success. Given the younger age of this group (7-9 years old), we did a quick check of the land and decided to repair some of the rail fences which run alongside the more precipitous banks above the River Lodden. The Lodden skirts the western boundary of UWNR.

Seeds4Sucess young people worked at UWNR all day on June 28th and the results were outstanding...in fact, way beyond my expectations.

From foreground to background - Jack, Kieron and Jay.

From foreground to background - Jack, Kieron and Jay.

One of the railed fences completely repaired....

One of the railed fences completely repaired....

Young Leaders session:

On Wednesday July 12th, we completed the main and final session of the Young Leaders work at UWNR for this summer period. The leaders worked with 4 groups of young children engaging them in a range of activities including nature bingo, den building, wildlife walks and so on.

For me one of the highlights was being given the master copy of the one-off, magical map of UWNR created and produced by Sarah, one of the Young Leaders. This was used to guide the young children around UWNR.

Sarah's map of UWNR - great names; Hidden Kingdom, The Hall of the Kiwi King, The Living Woods, Silent Woods, The Southern Wastes, The Hall of the Kiwi King.....

Sarah's map of UWNR - great names; Hidden Kingdom, The Hall of the Kiwi King, The Living Woods, Silent Woods, The Southern Wastes, The Hall of the Kiwi King.....

The robust den built by the younger children as one of their tasks...

The robust den built by the younger children as one of their tasks...

John Muir Award...

Working with Jaki Farrel, (Seeds 4 Success), we have just (October 2017) successfully completed the application process and have been accredited to award the John Muir Award, to the young people who come to UWNR and carry out conservation activities. This is a very exciting development, and gives the Education and Engagement work we do at UWNR more gravitas.

Between October 2017 and March 2018 the young people will carry out a range of activities and classroom based sessions - a few examples:

  1. Learn about how flora and fauna change and adapt with the onset of autumn / winter

  2. Build wintering boxes for wrens - ensuring population is maintained through the autumn / winter of 2017 / 2018.

  3. Build 2 – 3 dormouse bridges

  4. Create 1 large south-facing butterfly glade.

To find out more about the John Muir Award please click on the following link and watch a short video:

John Muir Award activity underway....

Now that our proposal form to deliver the John Muir Award has been approved we (Seeds 4 Success and UWNR), have started (late October 2017) the program and have had amazing & tangible results so far. The fist part of the module was to create another large south facing, butterfly, moth and invertebrate glade, at UWNR. We have run two complete sessions with separate groups. In each case the day ran as follows:

  • Talk to the young people about what a butterfly, moth and invertebrate glade is, where best to situate, and what the environmental benefits are.

  • Learn about small tree felling using hand-tools, with particular emphasis on safety. This mini-lecture then led into the actual work itself.

  • At the end of completing the practical work the young people completed a comprehensive worksheet, which looked at all aspects of the module from theory to actual practice.

First group of young people being instructed in safe, small tree felling.

First group of young people being instructed in safe, small tree felling.

The second of the two groups completing their worksheets.

The second of the two groups completing their worksheets.

Autumn and Winter - how fauna and flora adapts and changes to these harsher seasons....

Today (October 31st, 2017) we commenced this part of our John Muir Award work - wow, what a great day with a variety of activities and outputs. As ever the collaboration between Seeds 4 Success and UWNR is just amazing!

The key elements of the day were as follows:

  • We watched a DVD, which focused on how fauna and flora, in the UK, adapts to autumn and winter. We stopped the video at critical points, to ensure the young people assimilated the key messages.

  • Next, we did a field-walk through UWNR, and looked at many of the themes which had been covered in the film. For example, how amphibians and reptiles hibernate and where they do this, how Roe Deer males seek territory and mates, and how Barn Owl populations are put under pressure when we have a harsh winter i.e. there can be very high mortality.

  • Following all this input, we created a summary map - the picture below shows this output:

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  • The last part of the day was practical - the young people built wintering-over, wren boxes. These should help sustain the wren population through the colder winter period. The boxes were constructed from untreated wood and lined with raw lambs wool and dried leaves. These next two pictures show the young people constructing the boxes and then one positioned ready to be occupied....

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This day will be repeated with another group in early December, 2017...

The Best Session Ever???

As part of our Autumn / Winter program, last week (15th November), we did a one day module focusing on Barn Owls. Consistent with the John Muir Award program to date, we ran a teaching slot looking at the species, their adaptive features and the strategies they employ to get through these lean months. The practical part of the day was creating another Barn Owl field at UWNR, and expanding their hunting habitat by a margin of about 1/3. This was achieved by selectively felling a number of small trees.

For me the highlight of the day was Barn Owl pellet analysis - we had planned to run this slot for 20 minutes.....finally after 60, we gently called a halt. The young people were engrossed in this activity.....

Ben completely focused on this activity.....

Ben completely focused on this activity.....

The results!

The results!

Vital seasonal work....

Our last session at UWNR was held in bright, early winter sunshine and we were cooled by a punchy northerly wind. So just spot on conditions, for a day of outdoor graft. The objective of the day was to remove all the plastic tree guards from the saplings, which had been planted approx 4-6 years ago. From a conservation perspective this is vital work - removal of these guards ensures the young trees can grow on without the restriction or impediment. Water and debris gets trapped at the bottom of the guards, and this in turn rots the base, giving rise to disease and infection. As ever, to meet our John Muir Award requirements, we held an input / teaching session with the young people, before commencing the practical part of this activity. All and all, another cracking day with Seeds 4 Success, at UWNR.

We repeated this session on December 19th, 2017. UWNR is now clear of tree guards and I am very grateful for the valuable conservation work done by the wonderful young people from S4S.

Hard at work....

Hard at work....

Barn Owl heaven....

As part of the John Muir Award, partnering Seeds 4 Success, we did another day of conservation work on December 13th, 2017. The focus of the day was to extend not only the hunting range for the resident Barn Owls but, within those extended ranges, make autumn / winter hunting easier. Barn Owls expend significant amounts of calorific energy in the cold months hunting on the wing - so during autumn and winter barn owls seek out perches to hunt from. This in turn conserves energy at a time when vole populations can be depleted. To aid this and perhaps ensure the resident Barn Owls survive this winter we constructed and erected a number of hunting perches. Across the 3 acre Barn Owl field there is now a total of 7 hunting perches!

Jack, Ben and Hugo look happy with what they have achieved. Great work guys.

Jack, Ben and Hugo look happy with what they have achieved. Great work guys.

An Orchard is born....

As part of our ongoing John Muir Award, we worked on Saturday January 13th with a group of amazing young people from Seeds4Success. Some of the young people who were working with us are embarking on a similar environmental qualification, called the ASDAN award.  

The format of the day was as follows:

Part A - Teaching slot; using one of the bare rooted young trees, we focused on the various parts of the tree and their specific functions. For example - what the bark does, what role the leaves play and so on. We spent significant time looking at the role the root system plays....much of this discussion was based on a book called The Hidden Life of Trees by  Peter Wohlleben. 

Part B - Combining sketching and note taking, the young people summarized the learning, to that point of day. These examples show high quality output:

Great summary of all the key teaching points....

Great summary of all the key teaching points....

The root system of the bare rooted sapling in detail

The root system of the bare rooted sapling in detail

Part C - We then did a short input piece around the benefits of planting an orchard at UWNR. In summary form, these are as follows - to provide (1) valuable blossom in the spring, (2) fruit laden trees in mid-summer and (3) the ground strewn with wind-fall fruit in the late summer / early autumn. Benefits will be derived for a range of fauna, from butterflies, to birds, to badgers. Another key input / teaching element was how to properly and carefully plant a tree.

We planted the following species: Service Tree, Crab Apple, Cider Apple, Walnut, Medlar, Damson, Plum, Wild Cherry, Bird Cherry and Alder Buckthorn!

This is an exciting development at UWNR, and will enrich the habitat.

Most of the planting done....

Most of the planting done....

Young Leaders Day 

On Wednesday April 11th, a group of young people from Seeds4Success, came to UWNR to conduct a Young Leaders Session. The day focussed on young people leading a session with younger children - the core activities of the day at UWNR were based around nature and the local environment. The weather was OK and all who came really enjoyed their day and gained valuable knowledge....

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Talking Cold Blood with Richard Kerridge

One of the key aims of the project at UWNR is to engage and educate people - turn people onto the wonder and joy of our natural world. For the past 2 - 3 years we have been running an active education program for young people. On Sunday, 17th June 2018 we expanded this to a broader audience....

UWNR friend, celebrated author (of Cold Blood), and renowned herpetologist Richard Kerridge, ran an afternoon session. We started off with a guided walk seeking snakes and we were rewarded with a few lovely specimens. Clearly the star of the show was a large, mature, female Grass Snake. Richard estimated her age at 5 years old - making this animal an elder. She wore a large scar on her tail, a close shave at some point with a predator and a swollen belly, having very recently eaten. What was striking, and I think for most of us a significant learning, were the strategies grass snakes deploy when threatened. They either play dead, displaying a gapping mouth as part of this strategy, or they excrete the most foul smelling liquid - in vast quantities, for the relative size of the animal. Richard said that he and Chris Packham like this pungent liquid - we all found it completely repulsive. 

After this brilliant walk, Richard talked to us about his life in Herpetology and he read from his enthralling book - Cold Blood. (I've read it - it is wonderful!). 

Richard holding the mature female.

Richard holding the mature female.

A great example of a Grass Snake playing dead - displaying a gapping mouth.

A great example of a Grass Snake playing dead - displaying a gapping mouth.

Full house listening to Richard's talk.

Full house listening to Richard's talk.

Jack's Conserver John Muir Award 

15 year old Jack is working with me at UWNR over a 18-24 month period (commencing in April 2018) - at the end of this period he will be awarded the 'Conserver' John Muir Award. A key part of this work is improving Jack's reading and writing - each day we work together we complete dedicated reading and writing exercises. 

In his words this is what he is learning & achieving; 'I am learning about conservation and the tasks you need to do to create the habitats'. 

So far we have completed the following tasks and activities. Each activity is supported with me teaching Jack about the ecological significance & benefit of the tasks we are doing...

  • Cleared trees from the largest bramble patch to enable more sunlight penetration and grow butterfly feeding habitat

  • Felled and cleared large trees creating a sunny south-facing bug glade with shelter-belts to the north, west and east

  • Brought in Dormouse test tubes - cleaned and sorted, ready for repair.

  • Cleared south-facing adder glades

  • Completed repair of all Dormice test tubes and put these out into the landscape

  • Placed slate & stone slabs into the bug-glade. Prepared the ground by cutting turfs and exposing earth

  • Removed large cut logs from the Barn Owl field to enable grasses to grow and support the field vole population

  • Checked moth traps and identified moths trapped overnight

  • Collected grass cuttings and replenished grass mound, for grass snakes to lay their eggs

  • Removed large cuts logs from the butterfly glade, enabling grasses, flowers and thistles to grow - this glade will support a large number of invertebrates

  • Built dormouse bridges connecting habitats

  • Guided a group of people around UWNR pointing out various habitats and conservation projects which have been completed over the past 18 months

  • Collected grass cuttings and replenished grass mound for grass snakes to lay their eggs

  • Watered orchard (heritage varieties), wildflower / pollen bank & transplanted hazel shrubs

  • Guided a group of young people (also doing the John Muir Award) around UWNR showing potential Dormouse habitat and measures we have taken to encourage this species

  • Designed and constructed small mammal food hoppers for Barn Owl field - aim is to maintain high small mammal numbers through autumn and winter 2018 / 2019

  • Designed and constructed of beaver barrier in the stream, which runs though the heart of UWNR - aim to increase aquatic invertebrate numbers and create habitat for toads and frogs

  • Designed and constructed a small shed to create a built habitat in the main woodland - this will provide winter shelter for small mammals and birds

  • Bring in all dormouse tube inserts, for winter maintenance

  • Work with me co-teaching the children from the Wessex Home Education group - topic of the day was Trees. In the afternoon session Jack led 1/2 the group planting Goat Willow. This species will play a key role providing early pollen for the re-wilded bees at UWNR

  • Helped with essential winter conservation work. Two recent & key tasks: (1) Coppiced a large area of hazel, which was last coppiced 20 - 40 years ago. This important work with save this valuable tree species at UWNR. (2) Conservation Hedge Laying a strip of hedge, which has been neglected of perhaps 40 years. This habitat is now more attractive for a range of species - butterflies, moths and importantly Dormice.

  • Conducted guided walking tours of UWNR with guests, covering all key ecological features. For example; what habitats are most attractive to Dormice & how we gently manage these habitats to ensure we maintain a healthy Dormouse population at UWNR. 

  • Assisted with wild beehive making workshop and took charge of making 1 hive. Helped set up and site new wild beehive at UWNR.

  • Helped build a south-facing drystone wall which will provide habitat for (sun basking) snakes, solitary bees and small mustelids (stoats and weasels).

  • Designed and constructed a south-facing bug hotel, which is mounted on the barn owl barn. This structure will provide valuable winter habitat for a range of insects.