Tag Archives | tree identification

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

Natures Detectives – Woodland Walk in June

Hodgemoor Woods in June - guided woodland walk

Hodgemoor Woods in June – guided woodland walk

Thank you to the families that joined me for this guided woodland walk – it was great to see the youngsters engaging in being natures detectives, they did rather well too.

The aim of these walks is to educate, help youngsters and adults to identify plants and trees. Sometimes it’s nice to go for a brisk walk through the woods, perhaps for exercise, to keep fit and breath in some fresh air and relax. Today, we were doing things slow, stopping and taking a close look at plants, noticing the shapes, textures and smells and comparing them to others that at first glance may seem similar.

Here are a couple of clues to help you identify the hornbeam; the clusters of seed pods hanging below their leaves, the hornbeams distinctive bark, this is a particular ‘deeply cut’ example, more commonly, you will just see a flow of vertical lines up and down the truck of the tree.

Lovely shapes on this hornbeam, note the vertical flow of lines

Lovely shapes on this hornbeam, note the vertical flow of lines

Clusters of hornbeam seed pods, ready to fly away later in the year

Clusters of hornbeam seed pods, ready to fly away later in the year

We often think of a thistle as just being a spiky plant, that should be avoided, but take a closer look (click on any of the images to see the bigger picture) and see it’s beautiful structure and lovely flowers.

We can probably all recognise a buttercup, but have you sat down next to one and studied it for a while?

Getting up close to a buttercup

Getting up close to a buttercup

A spiky spear thistle, lovely colours with vicious spines

A spiky spear thistle, lovely colours with vicious spines

As we walked along the woodland paths, in a damp shady area, there were many tracks and trials, here is a clear example of a squirrel track. By contrast, there was a beautiful iris, almost certainly an escapee from a garden – perhaps fro the Polish community that lived here after the Second World War!

Squirrel tracks by the side of a muddy path

Squirrel tracks by the side of a muddy path

A beautiful iris, perhaps an escapee, rather than wild

A beautiful iris, perhaps an escapee, rather than wild

Honeysuckle grows through much of Hodgemoor woods. It winds its way up the trees, growing around the tree trunks and across out-stretched branches. We were busy looking at the early honeysuckle growth only to be greeted by a single flower making the most of the sunshine.
In the damper, shaded areas of the wood, we find what remains of the ransoms or wild garlic. The smell is still distinctive, the leaves less are less vibrant in colour, but with the flowers withering you can clearly see the clusters of three seed sitting on top of the flower stems.

Honeysuckle the first flower in June

Honeysuckle the first flower in June

Ramsons gone to seed by June - note the seed clusters

Ramsons gone to seed by June – note the seed clusters

We did plenty of tree hugging, feeling the textures of the bark, comparing one tree with another. The yellow lichen on the silver birch was such a bright yellow, it was growing on many of the trees. The downy birch, again if your get up close you will see its beautiful colours and see how its bark was peeling back. It is this paper thin bark, packed with oil that makes a wonderful tinder for starting a fire.

Downy birch its bark peeling back

Downy birch its bark peeling back

Silver birch with orange lichen

Silver birch with orange lichen

Sometimes it’s good to push a few plants back to see what else is growing. In amongst the long grasses, nettles and ground ivy was a few stalks of bugle. There was also a few stems of greater stitchwort with its five white split-petals!

Bugle in June

Bugle in June

Greater stitchwort in June

Greater stitchwort in June

Along a track, there was a lot of burdock, none had put any flower shoots up as yet. The bluebells have just a few signs of their withering flowers, but now are putting their energies into producing seeds for next year!

Burdock growing well, as yet not putting up any flowers, a ladybird looking for food in the middle!

Burdock growing well, as yet not putting up any flowers, a ladybird looking for food in the middle!

Bluebell going to seed

Bluebell going to seed

Thank you again to everyone who joined this guided woodland walk – the aim is to do these walks regularly and provide the opportunity to learn about the plants and trees throughout the seasons.

By all means take a look at the events calendar to see when the next walk will be, you are welcome to bring along friends too!

If you would like to arrange a guided woodland walk for you and your colleagues,  a youth group or perhaps a school class or any other group, then do get in contact here – thank you.