I was a lone ranger for the first time on Tuesday. This is usually the day that Rob and I spend together, however, Rob was unable to come in so I was able to do the big litter pick in a short stretch of slightly neglected woodland just below Sham Castle that I had assigned myself weeks before hand. I spent hours doing a sweep across the site and collected four bin bags of rubbish and while there is still work to be done, I left the woodland in a much more respectable state. I found some treasures along the way that I took back with me to the yard; some nice looking bottles and what I believe to be a completely intact fox skull, full set of teeth and all, and a Mont jack deer skull with only one antler – though I have not yet double checked the identity of the bones. The items, seen in the picture above, have since joined the array of other treasures that are on display around the rangers yard.
We had a very industrious day in Fairy Wood with all the volunteers. Rob brought up the log splitter from Prior Park and we formed a very efficient production line in which I used the chainsaw to crosscut large logs of felled beech, John and Ray split the sections into fire wood, Miles and Richard split some of these into even smaller pieces using an axe and Mike carted and stacked the logs into crates for storage. The system was satisfyingly effective and we have done a great job of topping up the fire wood stores for use in the forest school hearth.
With some assistance from Tabi, I lead my first school groups in a woodland activities day learning about habitats and bug hunting (my favourite!). We took each group of thirty 7-8 year olds on a walk through the woods, and asked them to think about all the different habitats that the woodland provides and the creatures that lived there and why. We stopped beside some large holes in the bank to discuss how we could tell it was a badger sett – rather than a fox den, for example – why the badgers lived there and which other signs of badgers we could see, such as snuffle holes and pathways through the undergrowth.
When we got to the stream, we sent the kids off in groups with bug pots equipped with magnifying lids and identification sheets to look for invertebrates amongst the leaves and decaying logs. They all got well stuck in; clambering around on fallen lime trees, dismantling large bits of wood, searching for life in the stream, digging around in the leaf litter – and within minutes of them running and slipping about, the ground had become rather treacherously muddy and we were all slipping over left right and centre.
We reconvened so that they could tip their specimens into trays and talk about where each was found, why it was found there and what the creatures roles were in the ecosystem before taking them back to their respective homes. On our way back through the woods, Tabi showed the kids how to tell the difference between a hazelnut shell that had been cracked open by a squirrel and one that had a neat little hole gnawed into it by a door mouse so that they could be wildlife detectives next time they were in a stand of hazel coppice.
By the end of leading the first group, after just one and a half hours, Tabi and I were exhausted. It felt like we’d already had a full day and we were about to do it all over again – I have whole new level of admiration for the teachers. I also commend the teachers for allowing the children so much freedom while they were in the woods. While remaining sensible and behaved, they had been very free and wild within the boundaries set. They had climbed on trees, splashed about in the river, slipped and slid over in the mud – some of the girls had even applied mud as war paint to their faces before our journey back through the woods – and this, for me, was exactly how kids should be learning outdoors – a good bit of playful, well controlled chaos. All of the kids and adults left in very high spirits and completely covered in mud – and I ended the day feeling extremely rewarded for having helped enable such a fun and fulfilling learning environment for everyone there.