A Library Event – 28 July 2017
A Nature Hunt for Children and Families organised by Jill Hnat
Led by Chris Measures, Friends of Gillfield Wood
Arriving in the library at 10.30am on this fine Friday morning there was a real buzz of excitement as children gathered and checked that their name badge was firmly attached to their clothing and they had the required pencil and little brown paper collecting bag.
As still more children arrived through the doors, with parents or grandparents in attendance, Jill, the organiser of the event, batted a range of questions as she took the register and handed out the necessary kit for each child to take out with them on this nature walk with a difference. Stuck to the side of their collecting bags was a list of fourteen things they were being challenged to either see, hear or collect. Things such as “A feather”; “Something fuzzy”; “A squirrel running or jumping in the trees”. Each thing on the list had a tick box by the side, the list being headed “Let’s go on a Nature Hunt and see what we can find!”
One young man, all of 7 years old, queried whether number 13 on the list, “Wildflower”, should be collected. “No, we should not pick wild flowers, just admire them”. He probably knew that anyway but was making sure the leader knew. “Now children, number 6….Squirrel….best just watch that, don’t try and catch it and put it in your paper bag”. They smiled and were all keen to get started.
And so it was that as the party moved out through the library doors, the children’s eyes were scanning everywhere to find at least one item on their list. “Something green” a perfect start as the children shouted out “grass, trees, leaves” and eagerly ticked the appropriate box. Then a feather was found lying on the grass, another box ticked and one lucky boy, in the blink of an eye, had quickly tucked the find away in his collecting bag. It was great to be able to show the children that nature is on their doorstep, all around them, no matter where they are. Before moving on, the children gently touched the purple flower heads of an Allium and we all agreed this could be classed as “Something fuzzy” so another box could be ticked and one or two children carefully wrote down the word “A L L I U M”. There was no need to encourage these children, they were all up for this Hunt.
Green Oak Park was our next port of call; so much to see and talk about in this area with its trees, shrubs, flowers and a stream with two small ponds. The flower bed, as on previous walks, proved a great attraction as the children gathered round to look at the different variety of plants, the colours and textures, plus they had the opportunity of watching, up close, a number of bees as they fed on the nectar. Some of the children noted the differences between Honeybees and Bumblebees, whilst some ran their small hands through Lavender stems to feel the texture and then to smell the fragrance. The grey leaves of the plant, Lamb’s Ear, were the “Something soft and gentle to touch”, so box number 8 was successfully ticked; even some of the adults were amazed at how soft these leaves felt.
Turning then to walk by a line of shrubs the children rushed on to see what next they could find on their list and they were quick to point out that some of the bushes were prickly and they could also see bramble, armed with sharp thorns, creeping over these bushes. So “Something prickly to make you squeal” was ticked but thankfully only squeals of delight were heard this particular day. It was also here that cones nibbled by squirrels were inspected and collected and a small patch of fungi was found and studied as it grew in the shade of a pine tree.
As the children then admired the wooden carvings of Otter, Rabbit and Squirrel that stand in the park, some children edged near to the sides of the ponds to search the pond weed and surrounding vegetation. It was here that one of the highlights of the Hunt took place as everyone became engrossed in watching tiny frogs resting and hopping on the surface of the weeds. A youngster even managed to carefully catch one and then proudly showed it to everyone as it sat quietly in his hands but, as he gently returned it to the pond, it hopped into his wellington boot! Much laughing and excitement was had by all as it was then seen to crawl out of the dark inside of his boot and up his leg to freedom.
As we then walked on, the occasional small white butterfly was noted in flight and box 14 was ticked whilst some children dashed to pick up the odd feather that happened to be lying on the grass. One such feather, on close inspection, when tilted in the sun showed not just black but blue and green along the edge. A young boy shouted out to the gathered group “it’s a Magpie’s!” and then one more feather disappeared into a brown collecting bag.
When it was suggested we should look at the trees on the edge of the park for different kinds of leaves more than one youngster politely pointed out that they had already collected the required three leaves and they had ticked box number 4. Remaining one step ahead of this group of very enthusiastic youngsters was proving a challenge in more ways than one. However, not to be de-railed, the group were encouraged to search the ground below the trees where a lot of old beech mast could be found for all to bag and tick box 11 “An acorn, a beech nut or an alder cone”. A collection of tiny acorns would come a bit later.
Some freshly developing beech mast was then pointed out in the lower branches of a huge Beech tree. This proved an ideal opportunity to show the differences not only in the leaves but in the seeds that hung in the Sycamore, Lime and Ash and to then demonstrate how they fall to the ground and give the opportunity for new trees to grow. A further example was the new conkers growing on the Horse Chestnut tree and the tiny conker trees growing in the leaf litter below, which certainly grabbed everyone’s attention. The group would go on to inspect Oak and Hazel but not before box 7 was ticked. This challenge involved a favourite, the hugging of a tree, “Something rough and bumpy to touch”. There is nothing quite like hugging a big old tree and connecting with nature whilst you peer into the massive canopy above.
Attention was then drawn to a Harlequin Ladybird resting on a leaf at just the right eye-level for a sharp eyed youngster to find. As the insect then crawled slowly over an open hand, another box was ticked, box 5, “Something wriggling or crawling”. And then just as everyone was admiring its many black markings on its bright red casing it opened its tiny wings and casually flew high across the open field for all to see.
On with the Hunt which then led everyone down to the Scout Hut off Aldam Road and along the footpath in the direction of Gillfield Wood. So much more to find along this footpath, so many different varieties of “Wildflower” which deserved a big tick in the appropriate box and although the sun was not shining, bees and hoverflies, moths, spiders, beetles and snails were present as was a number of butterflies. The markings on Comma, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Large Skipper were pointed out and a magnificent Red Admiral was discovered in a clearing as it rested with wings wide open. But box 3 “A smooth pebble” awaited. Totley Brook was flowing gently by the side of our path so it did not take a second before the children were scampering down to the edge of the brook to search through the stones for that one smooth pebble they would choose for their collection. Needless to say those children wearing wellington boots wanted a stone from the bed of the brook, below the water, so wading in they went with hands searching; the dry edge of the brook would not do for these adventurers as it did not provide quite the same excitement on a morning like this.
Hardly a bird had been seen or a bird heard on this walk so box 10 “Listen and hear a bird singing” may not have been ticked by many but some may have counted the solitary Carrion Crow that called from a roof top before it flew over our heads as we returned to the library for a 12.30pm finish. After an action packed two hours it was lovely to see the children sitting around tables, at the end of the Hunt, chatting away as they dived into drinks and biscuits, and adults too were seen to be in deep conversation; a very special atmosphere in a much loved library. It would be nice to think they were all sharing their favourite moments.
Perhaps they were; perhaps they were all discussing number 6 “A squirrel running or jumping in the trees”. Yes, we did see a squirrel. It caused such excitement and surprise. Adults were pointing as they tried to guide the eyes of their children onto it as it ran along branches and jumped its way through the tree. “It’s there running up the tree! There, look, look! “. A perfect moment and although some children were gently held back so all had the opportunity of seeing this animal’s antics, there may have been just one small child thinking “I do wish I could put that squirrel in my little brown collecting bag and take it home”.