At the end of 2017, I was approached by a small group of families who were keen to come to UWNR to learn, engage and be with nature. So, in the winter of 2018 we started this amazing collaboration. This section of the UWNR website is managed by the young people who come to the reserve...

Wessex Home Education Group was formed at the beginning of 2018. It is a group of home educated young people who are working towards a John Muir award at UWNR. During each season the group will enjoy discovering, exploring, conserving and sharing on this page the flora and fauna of UWNR.

John Muir Award: Barn Owls

We watched a short film about who John Muir was and what the John Muir award is about. Then we started our work on barn owls beginning with an amazing story, followed by information on the difference between tawny and barn owls. 

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Then we dissected owl pellets that were found around the barn this is what we found inside …….


We were looking forward to exploring UWNR but first we investigated some barn owl pellets.


Some amazing bones we found including field vole skulls, ribs and back vertebrae.



As we examined the pellets we were excited to see this lovely barn owl nearby. 


After lunch we went to the barn owl field and discovered the rough grassland habitat where the barn owls hunt. Next we learnt that barn owls main diet is field voles and about the owl nest boxes.



Finally a visitor arrived to talk to us about sustainable beekeeping. We are looking forward to creating a pollen bank to attract wild bees.

John Muir Award: pollen bank weeding



On a wet afternoon we met with the aim of clearing the space which is to become the pollen bank.



Chatting as we worked we quickly cleared the weeds despite the rain.

Between us we have decided upon a list of plants to acquire; our intent is to ensure nectar and pollen throughout the year. Too bad we get hay fever!


John Muir Award: pollen bank planting


Several varieties were planted and there are more to follow when available.

Exploring UWNR



Walking around on a lovely sunny day we found tadpoles, lots of insects and wildflowers but our favourite find was this glow worm larvae.

John Muir Award: Dormouse

Our topic for this session was the dormouse, we started by listening to a talk. We learnt about how they are nocturnal, their habitat and what they eat to double their weight before hibernating.

To help understand what it is like to be nocturnal we tried to walk across a field blindfolded. Although it was lots of fun we learnt a great deal about how dormice use their whiskers to feel their way around.


After that we did a fill-in-the-blanks and a crossword about the dormouse.


Then we went on a walk around the land to see the dormice bridges which they can use to cross from tree to tree because they are arboreal. The bridge has been placed next to a bramble patch as dormice like to eat the flowers and fruits of brambles. 

After lunch we roped out a section of the the land and started to pick up every hazelnut we could find and put them in a bucket. Then we went back to the barn and tried to identify the animal that had eaten each nut by looking for the gnaw marks and the shape of the hole. We were looking for an almost circular hole but it was very difficult to differentiate the markings on the hazelnuts between a dormouse and other rodents. The hazelnuts will need professional assessment.

John Muir Award: Autumn into Winter

We started our day with a brief talk on moths and then proceeded to open up two moth traps to see what we could identify. We were very fortunate to have some expert help.


We found a number of varieties including:

Hebrew Character

Common Marbled Carpet

Luna Underwing

Centre Barred Swallow

Muirville du Jour

Rosy Rustic

Stripped Rustic

Angle Shades

Six-stripped Rustic

Broad Bordered Underwing

Common Wainscot

Pink Barred Sallow

We did not have time to identify all the micro moths we found, there were lots of those too.

Then we spent some time looking at photos of moths and butterflies before talking about the kinds of changes flora and fauna undergo in the transition from autumn to winter. Next was a picture hunt around the land for animals and insects with a question sheet to complete. When we got back inside we sat and discussed the changes made and survival strategies used by these creatures. 

To finish up our busy day we gathered supplies to make a bug hotel. We tried to keep it mainly dry by raising it from the ground using bricks.


As we were building we found many arachnids


Using material from the area and some cardboard egg trays we filled in the gaps between the pallets. 


Finally we added some protection to the top layer and then we were done!


John Muir Award: Trees

We began our day by exploring the new barn and talking through the benefits of the spaces provided for barn owls, bats and house martins.

Next we had a discovery walk and talk with worksheets to identify trees on the land. 

We then sat with a drink whilst we compared notes and had an in depth session on trees. It helped to have a bare rooted tree on hand to examine. Some of us had read The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben which we had enjoyed and helped us in answering the questions.

This segued nicely into looking at the trees we were about to plant and why they would be a positive addition at Underhill. The Goat Willow providing food and shelter for bees and butterflies and the Gorse which flowers from January to June.


To protect the newly planted trees from deer we added a protective ring of branches. 


By the end of the session we had planted a baker’s dozen.

John Muir Award: Construction

Our day started with a  discussion on the type of animals to be found at UWNR and the structures we could provide to support them. Walking around the land on a cold and dry winters day we observed bird boxes, dormouse bridges and kingfisher perches.

In order to construct perches we needed to collect some hazel of various sizes. 


We returned to the barn to collect tools and split into two groups. One group made bird boxes.

The other group began on construction of the dormouse bridge. Digging holes for the supporting poles and building the basic structure.

Then it was time for a short lunch before we had the UWNR New Year Quiz 2019 Under-21 v Over-21. Luckily we all remembered most of what we have learnt over the past year and there were no fights over the winners.

Back outside the groups switched. More bird boxes were made and the dormouse bridge was completed. In addition we made three kingfisher perches and positioned them around the lake.

Finally we hung the bird boxes near the barn and the bird shed.

We are looking forward to seeing then used.

John Muir Award: Things with wings can migrate

We started the day with a moth session, during the session we opened a moth trap and identified 8 different species of moth: common Quaker, clouded drab, Hebrew character, small Quaker, March moth, early grey, twin-spotted Quaker and a micro moth. After that we went inside and talked about moth and butterfly migration and mapped their route on a wall map.  

After that we were presented with our John Muir Discovery Awards and talked about what we would like to cover on the Explorer Award. Over the coming year as part of the award we would like to visit UWNR at different times of the day and compare it to other wildlife areas. 

After lunch we went on a walk and tried to identify the bird calls that we heard. We heard: chiffchaff, blackbird, wagtail, blue tit, great tit, buzzard, mallard, nuthatch, wren, crow, jackdaw, jay, robin, chaffinch and a song thrush.  

We finished the day by mapping the migration route some birds take . We covered robins, swifts, starlings and Bewick's swans.


JM Award: Stepping up a level

As part of the JM award we are asked to share our knowledge of the area. We started the day by making a list of all the flora and fauna we have leant about ready to share with visitors later in the month. We surprised ourselves with how much we have covered.

For the next level of the John Muir award we have each chosen our place at Underhill we will observe changes in the area over the coming seasons. As part of this we made notes on why we had picked this area and what makes it special to us along with this seasons colours, sounds, creatures and importance. Lastly we tried to predict the changes that will  happen over the coming weeks.


Our last task for the day was to start on the third bug hotel. This is a large hotel attached to the barn and will be completed over a few sessions. We drilled holes into logs, cut hazel and added air bricks to the structure.

JM Award: Dawn chorus 

An early start! No photographs from this session due to low light levels but we do have some sound recordings. We tried very hard to identify as many birds as possible from their calls. These are the ones we were able to identify:





blue tit

coal tit

wood pigeon

woodpecker (by it’s pecking)

great tit



We are certain there were more that we could not identify but thought we had made a good start and hope to do better next time.

JM Award: Frogs, Toads and Open Day 

Our day started with a learning session on the differences and similarities between frogs and toads. Having discussed skin, walking, hopping and jumping we then covered what they eat (insects, snails, worms) and where they live, breed and hibernate.

In order to provide habitat for froglets and toadlets we cut down some hazel to make small wood piles around the lake.


After lunch some of us rehearsed our talks whilst others continued with the wood piles.

At  2pm we began our guided talks around the land. Each of us took about six visitors on a tour sharing what we have learnt. Everyone was lovely and we finished the afternoon with tea and cake. Another great day!


John Muir Award: Bug Hotel Update

Taking advantage of the recent sunny weather we spent some time completing the large bug hotel.

We are happy to report that it already has a few residents!

John Muir Award: Bats

Late afternoon on a Monday in August the Wessex Home Education Group met together with Jenny from the Wiltshire Bat Group at Underhill. To begin the session we listened to a talk from Jenny. This was fascinating and included information about which bats are normally found in this area, their migration routes and echolocation. Whilst learning about bats from around the world we were particularly interested to learn that some of the larger bats can use their eyes to hunt for food.

After the talk we had a delicious dinner cooked on the BBQ and started to prepare for the walk. To be able to hear the bats we had bat detectors that would bring the calls down to a lower frequency which is audible to human ears. This also meant that the bats were not disturbed by us listening to their sounds. 

The bats we heard while walking around the land were:

Common Pipistrelle 

Soprano Pipistrelle 

Brown Long Eared 




Thank you very much to Jenny for a fabulous evening and to Jonathan for hosting us.

Before we left for the night we set up a Robinson moth trap ready for our next session the following day.

John Muir Award: Moths

In the morning we opened the moth traps together with Hugo from Butterfly Conservation.


We found a variety of macro and micro moths.

The macro moths we found were

July Highflier

Lesser Broad-Bordered Yellow Underwing 

Brussels Lace

Straw Dot

Six-Striped Rustic

Dingy Footman 

Lesser Common Rustic

Blood Vein

Pale Prominent

Maidens Blush 

Once we had made our recordings and released the moths to  a safe place we went on a walk to  look for butterflies. We found a number of stunning examples.

Thank you very much to Hugo for such a lovely morning, we always learn something new!

John Muir Award: Barn Owls and Beaver Dams

The focus of the morning was learning about barn owls and looking at what we do here at UWNR .

To start with we watched a basic introduction to Barn Owls and learned all about just how amazing they are !

After that we had a look round at the barn that has been built specially for barn owls at the nature reserve .

The barn has special perches for barn owls and has chicken feed scatted around to attract rats for the barn owls to hunt when they cannot go outside .

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Then we dissected owl pellets that we found in the barn , this is what we found inside …


We spent the afternoon doing something completely different , we have been working on the reserves second artificial beaver dam .

We made a barrier in the stream out or solid logs stuck into the ground and then built around it with smaller sticks , twigs and brush , this will clean the water as the stream flows through and encourage small aquatic life in the pool that we have dug on one side .