Tag Archives | natures detectives

Family walk through Penn Wood

One of my favourite times each month – the opportunity to guide a few families through a local woodland in the Chilterns. Blessed with wonderful sunshine, it was a lovely May afternoon to be exploring Penn Woods. Managed by the Woodland Trust, it is one of the largest ancient woodlands in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) totalling over 435 acres!

Tree hugging - using our senses to recognise a mighty oak

Tree hugging – using our senses to recognise a mighty oak

We started our woodland walk from the church car park – heading out along the main foot path past the beautiful flint clad church and the newly installed Woodland Trust signage, welcoming visitors to the woods. Our first stop, stinging nettles – a plant that so many fear and yet, it wasn’t long before everyone was keen to look at them closer, especially the children.

Having demonstrated how to pick them without getting stung, I quickly showed how to juice the doc leave, the green liquid being used to relieve the inevitable stings! Many of the children were keen to try, the younger ones being guided to the doc leaves and the older ones picking nettles and then applying doc!

Tips for using stinging nettles

  • Always pick vibrant, healthy nettles, avoid areas that may have been polluted or fouled, be that by dogs being walked, farm run-offs or similar and gather the nettle tops – the top 4 to 6 leaves are usually best
  • To pick them with bare hands – seize the nettle, hold it firmly, should you be tender handed it will sting you for sure – gloves are probably a good option
  • Cooking will kill off the stings and stop them from stinging you
  • There are lots of vitamins in stinging nettles (more here)
  • Nettles make a lovely earthy tea – I like them when they are green, but you can dry them if you wish
  • They are good stirred into a classic risotto or as a vegetable, a soup or gazpacho
  • Stinging nettle tempura – I was serving them up at the recent Great Missenden Food Festival

Tree hugging – developing a relationship with a tree

My favourite tree, the mighty oak. I love it’s strength, the way it spreads its limbs out wide, reaching out across the sky. There’s the deep furrows in the gnarly bark and the beautiful curvy leaves that look like clouds as you hold them against the sky. A wonderful tree and great to see the children giving it a big hug.

Amazement at the amount of pond life - loving the tadpoles and water boatmen

Amazement at the amount of pond life – loving the tadpoles and water boatmen

We spent time looking at the many beech trees. Most of the buds have burst open to reveal their soft new leaves, oval in shape with a little tail and hairy around the edges. They are good to add to a woodland salad and a few were sampled by the children and their parents.

Fascination with the water boatmen

There was excitement around the pond, as one-by-one many tadpoles were spotted in the water, and then fascination with the water boatmen, as if by magic, they were skating across the surface of the pond.

Exploring the pond at Penn Woods

Exploring the pond at Penn Woods

Whilst some of the children explored the other side of the pond, keen to get closer to the waters edge and find routes that would just about support them, we climbed across the newly formed log-jetty. It was more solid than before, with the end staked to hold the logs in place. Still we didn’t want the children falling in – it’s not that deep but they would have got very muddy (none this time).

Identifying trees - using smell to recognise the fallen cedar

Identifying trees – using smell to recognise the fallen western red cedar

Climbing in the trees

One of the large western red cedars had fallen, not far from the pond, it had lost a huge part of its trunk which had crashed down on the surrounding trees. The children were quick to spot an opportunity for climbing and enjoyed playing along the long branches now just a foot or two above the ground.

Here was a great opportunity to engage our sense of smell to recognise this cedar – the foliage was crushed and the citrus smell revealed, just one of the ways to get to know this wonderful tree. Western red cedars have with a deep red-brown bark that is relatively soft to the touch, almost sponge like, a deep green foliage, and they tower above other trees, like a lesser version of the great American sequoias.

Identifying plants - checking that it's wood sorrel before eating!

Identifying plants – checking that it’s wood sorrel before eating!

On our return journey through the woodlands, we spent time getting to know the lovely larch – it’s foliage in little tufts, that are soft to touch. Unlike the spruce, fir and pines, the larch looses its leaves in winter, leaving the characteristic little stubs along the twigs.

Getting to the heart of wood sorrel

And then in an opening along the woodland path, there was an abundance of wood sorrel. Another opportunity to engage our senses. Many of the children recognised it’s shape as being similar. We carefully examined the plant, looking at the three heart shaped leaves and the lovely white flowers, with faint pink lines within. Then it was time to taste a few – first checking each one was the correct plant and not eating to many, just in case the oxalic acid (found in many plants) unset the stomach – moderation is a good thing!

More woodland walks

Thank you to the families who join me on this lovely May walk in Penn Woods and for granting permission for a few photos – much appreciated. If you’d like to join one of my family friendly guided woodland walks with your family, please check future dates and register here!

Summer holiday outdoor learning for children

Lots of children and their parents joined David in the woods for Environmental Learning and Bushcraft sessions at the Shortenhills Environmental Centre in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire.

We were natures detectives, identifying trees; feeling the bark, observing the shapes of the leaves, the colours and even the smells, and then we made string and bracelets from grass and stinging nettles – well done to you all. It was wonderful to see some of the youngest identifying the trees!

(This lovely short video was filmed and edited by Kirsty Feasey at Active-In)

David has teamed up with Shortenills which is part of the Adventure Learning Foundation and the great news is that these sessions have been funded by Public Health England in association with Active Bucks and Active-In, so they are FREE for the summer holidays!

More sessions at Shortenills each Tuesday throughout the summer holidays!

Environmental Learning and Bushcraft Sessions will be run on Tuesdays, starting at 3:45 and finishing at 5:45. They will be delivered so that parents and / or guardians participate and are actively involved and assist with their children’s learning.

Dates: Tuesday 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th August 2016

To book please contact Kirsty Feasey (mobile: 07710 095245, email: Kirsty.Feasey@active-in.co.uk) at Active-In – thank you

May’s guided woodland walk

It was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods, bright, sunny and warm with a little dappled shade here and there. All the trees had foliage, after the cold winter months looking at the buds, it was lovely to see the leaves sprouting from the buds and flowers forming.

Families gathering wild garlic in May

Families gathering wild garlic in May

In April we looked closely at the wild garlic (ransoms), learning how to identify this tasty plant. This month everyone was looking forward to seeing the wild garlic in flower – and they weren’t disappointed, there were lots of flowers. Some leaves and flowers were gathered to make pesto and to add zome zing to salads.

Young beech leaves

Young beech leaves

The children remembered the pointer buds of the beech, but could not see them bursting into leaf. Being so young and fresh, you can clearly see the fine downy hairs around the edge of the leaves. Whilst a little chewy, they have a nice flavour and are good with other leaves in a salad – a few leaves were tried.

Beech flowers

Beech flowers

Taking a closer look at the beech foliage, we could see the flowers, the male flower out on a stem, hairy / downy.

Goat Willow / Pussy Willow / Sallow in flower

Goat Willow / Pussy Willow / Sallow in flower

The flowers of the goat willow are now fully formed and it won’t be long until they burst with blossom and become fluffy like a pussies tail!

Cockooflower / Lady's-smock

Cockooflower / Lady’s-smock

So easily missed, the Cockooflower or lady’s-smock is a beautiful little flower, it’s flowers sitting a top a slender tall stem, with purple veins radiating out across four pale petals.

Dog violets

Dog violets

Often seen hidden around the margins of hedgerows or edges of gardens, the dog violet has a stunning purple-blue flowers with darker coloured veins. We found a carpet of these violets out in full sunshine, as vivid as the bluebells but sitting close to the ground, nestled within the grass.

Thank you to everyone who joined me for this lovely woodland walk, it was nice to see familiar faces and meet new families too, especially the youngest to attend the walk at just 7 weeks!

Join us for a Free Family Friendly Guided Woodland Walk

Autumn walk in the woods

Family guided woodland walk in the Chilterns

Family guided woodland walk in the Chilterns

It’s always nice to take people out for a walk in the woods, it’s something I really enjoy and look forward to doing each month. I particularly like introducing them to the trees; helping them to recognise the different specifies.

Autumn leaves on muddy trails in the Chilterns

Autumn leaves on muddy trails in the Chilterns

It being Autumn, we were provided with a beautiful array of leaves all in varying shades, colours and states of decay. We looked at the shape of the leaves, the colour of buds and the textures of the tree barks.

Family guided woodland walk in the Chilterns

Family guided woodland walk in the Chilterns

It was lovely to see everyone, especially the children engaged in collecting leaves, spotting the differences and being able to identify and name the trees – thank you!

Family guided woodland walk in the Chilterns

Family guided woodland walk in the Chilterns

Join me for a guided woodland walk – dates for futures walks & how to register are on the Bushcraft Courses and Events Calendar.