Tag Archives: education

One Day Wild Summer Event

OneWildDay Poster

Join us for a great day of wild activities at Duart Castle. See more information on the event page or contact Rachel on either 07540792650 or rachelannfrench92@gmail.com

Booking is essential and spaces will be limited so don’t leave it too late.

Day 23: Den building 30DaysWild

30 Days Wild 

Day 23

On Thursday the Ulva Primary School children vacated the premises for the polling station and visited Lochdonhead Primary School for the day. These primary schools are under a joint head teacher and have great links, giving the children chances to make friends outside of their own small number.

At Lochdon school, the children have access to a brilliant patch of woodland within easy walking distance which gives amazing outdoor learning opportunities (at Ulva Primary we use a local beach as an outdoor learning area). We made the most of the schools being together and spent the morning working on teamwork skills in the woodland school.

The walk into the forest area is great for wildlife too, with flower-filled road verges boasting orchids, daisies, dandelions and birds-foot trefoil. The kids also spotted a slow-worm on the track and knowing it posed no threat they were excited to see the reptile. We talked about why it was a lizard and not a snake, nor even a worm and chatted about the differences between male and female before leaving it in peace to find cover.

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A slow-worm – I took this a wee while back! 

The children were split into mixed school teams and were tasked to build a den. Outdoor education like this really gives the kids a chance to develop life skills and highlights areas that need more support. Confidence, communication, risk management and compromising were all required and some fared better than others, but on reflection all the children could discuss areas to improve and what worked well. This outdoor activity also encourages creativity and free thinking – brilliant skills which lead to creative futures in the real world. Plus, being out in nature has numerous health benefits!

WildChild Scotland (@WildChild_Sco)

 

Day 16: Wild Child flower ID 30DaysWild

30 Days Wild 

Day 16 

Today at school we spent the afternoon completing another Wildlife Action Award activity. We went out in the rain to snap photos of the wildflowers in the school garden to later ID. We found lots around the edges of the garden (the areas the council aren’t so against) and checked some flowers out up close with hand lenses. We found foxgloves, self-heal, red campion, tutsan, cuckoo flower, stickyjacks, daisies, bramble, flag iris and more. The children looked up information and the gaelic names for the species before drawing and labelling some of their favourites. We chatted about Charles Darwin and ensured our curiosity was up to his standards whilst enjoying the sound of lapwing and skylark overhead. It’s important that children appreciate our native wildflowers and learn some of their names, after many common species names were removed from the English dictionary!

WildChild Scotland (@WildChild_Sco)

 

 

Day 10: Letter to MP & wild gifts 30DaysWild

30 Days Wild

Day 10

Yesterday at school I worked with the children on their Wildlife Action Awards through the RSPB. We’re now aiming for our gold level award, having already received our bronze and silver for completing a 12 different wildlife related activities including making bird boxes, beach cleaning, creating a bug hotel and pond dipping. One of our chosen activities for the gold level was writing to our local MP about an issue in our local area.

We brainstormed and the children came up with some brilliant, insightful ideas with regard to improving things for local wildlife on the island. They were angry that people drove so fast, killing lots of our wildlife and were unhappy about the levels of litter on and around the island. On a national scale, they also mentioned the continued persecution of beavers in Perthshire, they couldn’t understand why we’d bring them back to allow them to be shot on a regular basis. Despite not having any squirrel species native on Mull, the children are well aware of the threat grey squirrels pose to our British reds and mentioned this too. This level of awareness, despite living on an isolated island is amazing.

We finally decided to write about the litter in our local seas and suggest ways to improve the situation. The children did an amazing beach clean in May this year, collecting well over 50 bags of litter, but this doesn’t fix the real problem. The children want to install signage advising people to “Bag it, bin it and keep our oceans clean”. These would be in busy areas around pontoons and ferry terminals, or busy beaches. They also suggest more recycling bins onsite and they’d love reverse vending machines, to encourage people to recycle plastic bottles and pick up other people’s litter. They have sent the letter to Mr Brendan O’Hara (SNP) and Mr John Finnie (Green party).

Plus, yesterday for my birthday I received some lovely wild gifts including ammonite fossil earrings and a book on ravens which I’m very excited to read – “Mind of the Raven, investigations and adventures with wolf birds” by Bernd Heinrich. This year I was privilege to watch a raven nest site, situated on a secluded sea cliff. The pair raised four youngsters and they all fledged successfully. They are incredibly interesting birds and I’m sure this book will make them all the more interesting.

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WildChild Scotland (@WildChild_Sco)

Day 8: Wild School Gardening 30DaysWild

30 Days Wild 

Day 8 

At Ulva Primary we spent the afternoon in out in the school grounds, preparing some planters for our vegetables and flowers. The children have grown tomatoes, courgettes, leeks and some flowers from seed this year and they’re all ready to be relocated in the garden. Whilst clearing the planters the kids found plenty of wildlife and aren’t afraid to touch and feel, often bringing me the creature to identify, before safely returning it to the wild.

One planter is no longer accessible to us – ants have moved in. What look to be yellow meadow ants have created their colony in the pot. We happily left them in peace and moved on. The children also found butterfly caterpillars and enjoyed watching a race between two garden snails. All the while our blue tit parents whizzed in and out of their nest box and the swallows overhead chattered.

We also found a moth pupa and are keeping a close eye on it to see which species emerges. The pupa itself had us all engrossed as it wriggled in defence. Hopefully, the moth emerges in the next few weeks before the schools are on holiday, so soon for Scottish children!

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Moth pupa – species ID welcome! 

Wild Child Scotland (@WildChild_Sco)

30 Days Wild

WildChild Scotland will be joining in the fun with 30 Days Wild. Starting tomorrow I’ll be making extra time to spend outside, connecting to nature along with thousands of others across the country. 30 Days Wild is a Wildlife Trusts project and is a brilliant way to bring people and wildlife together every day. 

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My connection to a Large Red Damselfly – what an incredible creature

Over the weekend I had plenty of wild encounters with nature, but one of the great moments was marvelling at a Large Red Damselfly. Experiences with nature like this really remind us how amazing it is – just look at the detail and colours. We’re extremely privileged to have stunning wildlife like this on our doorstep. Head outside to enjoy it, especially at this time of year when things are bursting into life and action.

WildChild Scotland (@WildChild_Sco)

Chance connections

No matter how much we plan our outdoor experiences and encounters with wildlife it still falls to chance.

In many circumstances, naturalists are now species focused, twitcher like and not just with regard to birds! We’ve all done it and do so regularly – we head out into the wilds with a species in mind, an imaginary checklist and a success rating. How many of us have travelled to Scotland and stayed in a cottage that boasts the good likelihood of seeing pine marten? Just pop out some sweet snacks and await their arrival. Mull each year is flooded with tourists with white-tailed eagle, golden eagle and otter on the brain. Our favourite seasonal shows, Springwatch and Autumnwatch encourage us to visit reserves and locations across the country to spot particular species.

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Pine marten visitor – Ardtornish, Morvern

This is partly due to human influence on habitat and distributions of species, gone are the days you could wander out to chance upon pine marten, red squirrel, white-tailed eagle, adder or osprey, along with many more. We’ve shrunken and fragmented their suitable habitat, or persecuted them so heavily that we now need to travel to find them and the success of our journey hinges on seeing them.

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White-tailed eagle, a checklist species on Mull

This is fine, we all do it and often to see some species we have to head out with them in mind. But it’s still all down to chance, fate or luck. We can try extremely hard to be in the right place at the right time but nature does its own thing, no guarantees! As adults we can just about handle the disappointment of not encountering the desired species, but we should be careful when our younger generations are involved. Aiming high can be a real excitement, but if the species isn’t seen we’re disheartening kids and swaying their feelings towards natural history.

Instead head out with an open mind and a positive attitude and let chance take the lead. Without that imaginary checklist every encounter becomes exciting because it’s the unexpected. Enjoy the common and regular species, become more acquainted with their behaviours and be ready to be surprised. Just two days ago I spent a few hours searching hard for reptiles in what appeared to be a great spot and left for home with a little tinge of disappointment. But by chance I pulled into a passing place and from the windscreen I spotted a lizard basking right by the road. After taking a couple of photos I took a few more steps and spotted an adder, slow-worm and another lizard, all within inches of each other – mere feet from the road! This was a chance connection to nature in a very unexpected location. I was elated and drove home with a big smile on my face.

 

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Adder – chance connections

That was a great chance connection with reptiles and we had another yesterday when wandering in one of Mull’s wilder parts, away from footpaths and tracks. First we encountered a colony of yellow meadow ants, making their busy home under a very small scrap of corrugated sheeting. We watched a pair of grey wagtails bobbing about a burn and found the perfectly preserved breast bone and wings of a kestrel – a great natural keepsake. Then, just when we weren’t expecting it, an adder was curled up among grasses in a tiny pocket of bracken. What a thrill to bump into our only venomous snake! We continued on and shortly encountered another adder, again in the tiniest pockets of bracken habitat amid boggy surroundings. We also delighted in the speed of common lizards, taking to cover at the vibrations our footsteps create – how amazing that raptors like kestrel and buzzard are agile and acute enough to catch them as prey.

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Common lizard – spotted from the car!

We should make time for chance connections with nature, let the wildlife surprise you and minimise any chance of disappointment. Children relish all connections with the natural world when allowed to do so. Don’t make their childhood about the top species and tick boxes, let nature do its thing and inspire them. If you visit the Isle of Mull don’t make it all about the eagles and otters, if you chance upon them brilliant, if you don’t that’s okay. With young people so disconnected from nature in this modern world, we need those happenstance connections more than ever, especially the local ones, the ones on your doorstep – children need to know nature is out there and easily accessible and so do adults. We can get disheartened with the current state of nature but finding chance connections close to home can cheer our thoughts. It doesn’t always have to be a far flung adventure with drawcard species as the make or break.

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Drinker moth caterpillar – chance on these guys on your walks right now!

Rachel Ann French | WildChildScotland

The little things…

As the saying goes, it’s the little things that count. This is so true for nature, but we’re quick to forget about them. The all signing, all dancing nature programmes that hit our screens excite us about the big things and the far-flung places. Of course, the footage and the story lines are brilliant and inspiring but they aren’t a realistic destination for most of us and certainly won’t be on the family holiday list. So, children don’t get to connect to these places and species in real life. Real life connections are the ones that stick, no matter how little. The little things give you a chance to connect much more often and these chances will stay with you throughout adult life. Just last summer I found an elephant hawkmoth caterpillar by chance. I was so surprised and elated by this creature it was just like being a child again.

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Elephant hawkmoth caterpillar

Some of my most cherished memories of nature and childhood are the tiniest. My bird feeders had me hooked from the moment I was given my first bird watching book. Chaffinch, dunnock and robin were the regular birds, the normal birds so to speak but because they were there right by the window everyday the connection was real and it lasted. My godparents garden was full of cabbages and therefore full of caterpillars. I didn’t know the species, I had a vague idea that they’d become a white butterfly, only because I’d seen white butterflies in the garden. But, I became a caterpillar rescuer, saving them from some sort of doom, imagined or otherwise. I collected lots, and installed them in new homes – butter tubs! My Grandma and I would visit Rothbury, in rural Northumberland. We’d spend hours down by the River Coquet fishing for ‘tiddlers’ as she called them. We’d get wet feet and a little muddy but we’d head back proudly carrying glass jars full of small fish, usually to be released later in the week.

These are the things that really mattered and developed a real love of nature as a whole, not just the big things or exotic things, but everything from earthworms up. They still matter now and I still gain a huge amount of joy and happiness from the smaller things.

Yesterday, we took a walk to a spot we know is good for adders and lizards. These are the slightly bigger things and are still a huge excitement. We weren’t successful in looking for them but we still found some brilliant little things. An old fishing hut, now strewn around as corrugated tin sheets has become a home for wildlife. First we found a short-tailed vole, then a toad, then another vole. These are the little things, the fairly regular things but a connection to these animals may last a life time.

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Short-tailed vole

The voles paused under the lifted sheets, deciding if we were a threat, where to go and what to do. We watched as they squeezed through their little grassy tunnels – an insight into their tiny world. The toad sat still, as if totally unaware of us, his fascinating rectangular pupils unblinking. How old was this toad? They’ve been known to live till the age of 16. Did he have years of experience under his rotund belt? The last moment of little things yesterday was the realisation that we were surrounded by ant mounds. They stood unobtrusively around the hillside but the more we looked the more we saw. What a revelation – think of the biomass of insects in that little area!

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Common toad

We need to encourage these big connections to the little things in our younger generations. Children are held back and restricted so often, regulations tell us what we can’t or shouldn’t do (rightly so in some instances), but we need to release the child when we can. Let them pick up frogs and toads and feel the squirm in their hands. Let them dig for earthworms with their bare hands and wash them later. Let them get wet and muddy, slip on seaweed and tumble into a rock pool, pick up a crab and stroke an anemone. These are the things they’ll remember for life. The little things have the biggest impact.

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Connecting with a crab on the beach

 

Chick Books = Kids books

Horus the Peregrine 

Naturalist and children’s author, John Miles is the creator of Chick Books, a brilliant and growing collection of nature based children’s books. A perfect way to inspire and enthral younger generations.

Horus the Peregrine is currently one of four titles so far, with three more due to be released this year. Horus is brought to life as a peregrine falcon chick growing up fast in the UK’s busy capital city, London. Horus fights for food and space in the nest along with his two sisters and brother whilst his parents provide them with regular feral pigeons. An inspiring aspect is the urban location, both children and adults might be surprised to find the peregrine falcon nesting on the Houses of Parliament! This could be the final bit of encouragement city dwelling families need to find nature on their doorsteps; nature is out there and can be found in the most unexpected places.

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Peregrine falcon – inspiring species

The fantastic illustrations bring life to the well known London sights as the story continues; Horus leaves the nest and begins to explore the area, dropping by Buckingham PalaceTrafalgar Square and the London Eye. The text is fun and full of interesting facts, safe to say I learnt a few things too – great for adults as well as the younger generations. The information is diverse; readers will enjoy species facts, learning more about the peregrine falcon, how ancient Egypt felt about falcons all those years ago and even some historic battle details!

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Iconic locations in urban areas

The book also touches lightly on an emotive but serious issue peregrine falcons face in the United Kingdom’s countryside; illegal killing and persecution to increase red grouse numbers on shooting estates. Humans can be greedy and cruel so it’s important that our children understand that nature needs help. Readers of Horus the Peregrine may well be our next generation of conservationists, ecologists and wildlife lovers so its great that the author covers the whole story.

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Hidden world of British countryside

Overall, Horus the Peregrine is a perfect book for children, families and adults alike. It’s a great book to enjoy together and encourage a love of wildlife. No matter where you live, everyone should be able to connect with nature and be inspired. Books are a brilliant way to capture an imagination, the added bonus with a nature book is that the imagined can become reality – we can get our children outdoors and they can experience the pages for real. What better way to reverse the modern disconnection from nature and books all at the same time.

Chick Books can all be purchased online, follow the links below or head over to Chick Books to see more reviews and information and be sure to follow on Twitter @Chick_Books for regular updates on new releases, like ‘Fred the Chaffinch’ and ‘Mavis the Song Thrush’ both due out this year.

Waterstones  NHSB   Amazon 

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Fred the Chaffinch – released soon

Our plastic challenge

Children are born into a plastic way of life – plastic is now the normality. Older generations know differently. I remember glass milk bottles on the doorstep, delivered every morning by a local milkman. I don’t recall much more than that, but the next generation up will. They’ll remember paper bags, reusable nappies, glass bottles you took to the shop to refill. Plastic, especially the one-use disposable items is now a global threat to the planet, and the threat is only escalating. Our children grow up taking plastic for granted, with no education into the problems it creates. If our youngest generations aren’t made aware of this environmental and health issue we’re never going to get a handle on it.

Disposable life style

Believe it or not, we produce almost 300 million tonnes of plastic each year. It has nowhere to go, other than into our oceans or landfill sites to cause endless years of chemical leaching, marine devastation and more. We’ve all seen those horrendous images of albatross carcasses full of plastic, or seals, whales and dolphins with plastic rubbish wrapped around their bodies. So why aren’t we doing something about it? Plastic producers are still churning out hazardous plastic packaging every day, tonnes of the stuff – despite knowing full well that it doesn’t go anywhere. Our plastic isn’t disposable, degradable or even fully recyclable. Once we’ve made it and let it loose into the world it’ll be there for life, a life much longer than yours or mine. How ironic that we use the least disposable material for our daily disposable items, coffee cups, plates, knives, forks, bottles – the one-use list is never ending.

Plastic terrifies me, it has to be one of the biggest issues facing environmental and human health right now and yet we can’t get it away from it. Plastic is everywhere, just look around and count how many plastic items you can see from wherever you’re sitting. In America around 50 billion ‘one-use’ plastic water bottles are used per year, and thats only for water! Add on the coke, pepsi and multitude of plastic bottled soft drinks consumed just as often! We’re now paying more for bottled water than we pay for fuel, yet we guzzle it with complete ignorance. This bottled water is usually the same we’d get straight from our tap, only with the added negative of harmful, leaching chemicals used in the plastic, and often particularly in America the added wide ranging impacts when the bottled water companies move in and simply take local water.

Plastic warriors

I began looking into my life of plastic in 2015 after watching an inspiring and rather horrific TED talk. Angered, I watched more talks online and came across Beth Terry talking about her plastic free life. Her determination to remove plastic entirely from her life was brilliant and refreshing, see her website here http://myplasticfreelife.com/about-me/.

So, whilst reading her book Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too I took the “Plastic Challenge” for one week – collecting and recording all of my plastic waste over the course of seven days. This was illuminating, and once again fairly terrifying, as is Beth Terry’s great book. Plastic use is enormous and the more you think the more you realise just how much we rely upon it.

My Plastic Challenge (13th-20th July 2015)

You can see the plastic I accumulated in just one week (admittedly late in writing this post, last July when I took the challenge!). Some of this is easier to avoid, some not so much – especially when living on a rural Scottish island with limited shopping options. Some of the waste seems completely idiotic. Why do CO-OP and many other supermarkets wrap their turnips in plastic? Surely this very tough vegetable has a great, naturally protecting skin? Plastic windows set in the paper, just so you can see the fresh baked bread you want to buy. Or how about a plastic window in the cardboard box of lasagne pasta sheets? They’re just so interesting to look at!

2x milk cartons
1x cordial bottle
1x bleach bottle
2x shampoo bottles
1x washing up liquid bottle
4x plastic packaging bags from online shopping
x9 individual chocolate bar wrappers
x1 chocolate bar outside wrapper
4x biscuit wrappers
x1 bacon carton
x1 plastic yoghurt lid
x1 sticker from LUSH shampoo bar
x1 roast chicken tray and cling film cover
x1 mushroom tray and cling film cover
x1 garlic bread packet
x2 new potato packets
x1 trimmed leek packet
x1 small lunch steak pie packet
x1 turnip wrapper
x1 plastic window from fresh coop bread

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My plastic challenge

To change the current reliance on plastic people need to speak up and do something about it themselves. Unless the consumers change, the huge plastic churning and plastic packaging companies won’t. Marine conservation bodies are doing their bit, as the ocean stands to suffer the most but if more of us don’t wake up to the issue now we’ll be stuck in this plastic life cycle.

Plastic commodity 

Our children need to be educated with regard to plastic, they need to see that better alternatives exist and they need to understand that recycling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Schools are brilliant these days – they compost and recycle and they have ‘turn of the light’ signs everywhere. Of course doing this is better than not, but recycling plastic waste isn’t the answer; most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before they end up in landfill or in the ocean. We’re growing a whole new army of people that see plastic as a commodity and we really need to change that early on.

This is our global plastic challenge.