Friday, 16 December 2011

A little taste of India in Southmead

Recently I've been working on a project at Badock's Wood in Southmead to engage primary school children with their local nature reserve.The project is funded by the Airbus Corporate Foundation as part of their India Biodiversity project. This is an amazing project which sends Airbus staff to a small community in India, rich in biodiversity, to provide the villagers with a sustainable fuel source and income.By building cattle sheds and biogas chambers the Airbus team create a system that converts cow dung into methane gas that is piped directly into the villagers homes and used for cooking.

For two weeks during each visit Airbus staff from around the world, build cow sheds, dig huge holes and create 3 biogas systems in extreme heat and primative conditions.This is absolutely life changing for the village community, no more 3-4 hours a day collecting wood, no more health damaging smoke filled homes and an income generated from fertlizer and milk sales.

Last week Emma Mayo from Airbus came along to Badock's Wood primary school with me to tell the year 6 class about her experiences in Southern India. Prior to her visit the pupils wrote letters and took photos of their school  for Emma to take with her to show pupils in an Indian school. Emma brought lots of photos back to show the class, explaining the work she had been doing, how she had lived and the wildlife she had seen. She then presented a garland of coloured paper created by the children in India as a gift for their new English friends. Each Indian child had written their name and something about themselves on a piece of paper to create the garland.The pupils of Badock's Wood primary had lots of questions for Emma and were fascinated by the Indian way of life, particularly the fact that they had no Playstations or shoes and that the volunteers had to dig a hole for their toilet!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Make your own hedgehog!

After all the fun we've had making clay hedgehogs with children at South Gloucestershire primary schools in the last few weeks, we thought we'd share with our fellow readers how you can make one yourself! As well as having fun being creative, it's a great opportunity to learn some facts about our little spikey friends who are becoming endangered.

What you will need
  • Clay (air drying is the best)
  • Cocktail sticks snapped in half
  • Googley eyes (can be found in craft shops) or small stones also look great

How to make your clay hedgehog
  1. Get yourself a ball of clay, about the size of a satsuma.
  2. Roll the clay into a smooth ball.
  3. Squidge out some of the clay to make a nose. If you like you can prick little holes in the end of the nose for nostrils!
  4. If you're feeling particularly creative, you can give your hog some teeth or maybe even give it some feet with claws.
  5. When you're happy with the shape of your hedgehog you can put the eyes in place and give it spikes with lots of little cocktail sticks.
  6. Leave your hedgehog to air-dry overnight

Hedgehog facts
  • Hedgehogs have between 6000-7000 spikes.
  • Their eyesight is quite poor and so they depend on their strong sense of smell and hearing to find food and stay clear of predators.
  • Hedgehogs roll into a ball and point their spikes in all different directions to protect themselves against predators such as badgers and foxes.
  • Hedgehogs love eating slugs, snails, beatles caterpillars and worms.
  • A third of urban hedgehogs have disappeared in the last 20 years.

For more info on why hedgehogs numbers are on the decline and what you can do to help them, visit our Wild Hedgehogs website here. We're running a survey to help us get a clear picture of where hedgehogs are doing well and not so well, so if you see a hedgehog (dead or alive) then map your sighting here.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

It's a Hog's Life

Ann and Claire had a great afternoon delivering an  'It's a  Hog's Life'  workshop to 90 children at Staple Hill Primary School yesterday! 
There was much excitement as we arrived and the children quickly realised that we had some hedgehog-themed fun in store! The biggest clue was Claire was dressed up as a hedgehog!

 The children learnt all about one of Britain's favourite mammals, what makes them such fascinating creatures and why hedgehogs are in trouble and need our help! Recent reports show that hedgehogs have decline by a quarter over the last 10 years.
You can find out more at
or see some video footage of these special creatures at
The pupils made some brilliant hedgehog creations out of clay and sticks, and had really thought about the long nose of the hedgehog and their many spikes! There were also some very interesting names too, including Spike, Spikes, Spiky, Brambleberry, Rose and Roger!
The children then provided excellent sound effects to 'The Adventures of Spike the Hedgehog' a story all about the perils of hedgehog life! The children were very inquisitive and had many hedgehog questions to ask us- but at the end of the day Claire and Ann decided to ask the questions and were very pleased at how much the pupils had learnt about our spiky friends! 
Thank you to staff and pupils at Staple Hill Primary School for such a fun afternoon!

Friday, 2 December 2011

The living landscape

With recent funding from the Mendip Hills AONB Sustainable Development Fund I am now developing an ambitious new project to encourage a wider appreciation of the local landscape, working primarily with Bishop Sutton Primary School in the Chew Valley. The Avon Wildlife Trust's Living Landscapes team are currently working to restore wildflower grasslands in the area and to support these efforts, I will be taking students out to study land on sites including Folly Farm and Burledge Hill, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Through film-making and interviews with people in the local community students will investigate the importance of wildlife-friendly farming, sustainable landscapes and Avon's Wildflower Grassland project, enabling them to think about future implications of land use in the region and the protection of it for the future.Yesterday I went to explore the Chew Valley with Richie Smith, Living Landscapes officer at Avon Wildlife Trust, to see if it was possible for pupils from Bishop Sutton primary school to walk to our fantastic nature reserve at Folly Farm using public footpaths.

 Much to our delight it was a lovely walk, we crossed farmers fields, passed old orchards,bridges, ancient trees and beautiful views. We had to take a few diversions as some footpaths that were supposed to lead us across fields were non existent but it was easy enough to go round. Along the way we bumped into local resident, Vic Pritchard, who had lived in the area his whole life.He told us about the last notable lord, Henry Strachey, born 1863, who lived in Sutton Court. Strachey was an artist and  the son of Sir Edward Strachey. If you take a look in the Church of England parish church of St Nicholas and St Mary in Stowey you will see wall paintings by Henry Strachey from 1915, the story goes that he used the villagers of Stowey as models for his angels.

Vic also told us about the little stream that runs in front of the church and across his land. It is mentioned in the 1780 Collins History of Somerset book and was known as 'the petrifying waters' which were so pure that those who took from it never suffered from gall stones. A recent campaign by the local community to stop Stowey quarry from accepting waste such as asbestos was successful in temporarily halting proceedings. One of the concerns was that residue from potentially hazardous waste may enter the water courses, such as the 'petrifying waters', which have been pure and clean for hundreds of years.

Soon after chatting to Mr Pritchard in Stowey we came across an amazing gorge and mini waterfall, almost unseen until you got up really close. Not long after we arrived at our destination, Avon Wildlife Trust's 250 acre nature reserve Folly Farm.

We decided to head back to Bishop Sutton a different way, crossing the reserve and pausing at the top of Dowlings Wood to take in a spectacular view, before heading down across Stowey House Farm land and back to Bishop Sutton. This walk is going to be a great introduction for pupils to learn about their local landscape, see the impacts of farming and learn how they can help to create a prosperous, healthy environment to live in.
We will also be creating a teaching resource pack to accompany the Living Landscapes project and will provide training for teachers from surrounding schools, benefiting the whole community. Katie Geen, teacher at the Bishop Sutton primary school is right behind the project, explaining, 'We are very committed as a school to integrating biodiversity and children's appreciation of the local area into the life and curriculum of the school.'

Seeing young people excited about their own neighbourhood has given me the greatest pleasure, and I hope that they will continue to explore, discover and protect the diversity of wildlife on their doorstep.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Make your own Christmas Stars

With Christmas on its way, why not get creative and make some of your own decorations? It's a great activity to do with children and they can admire their creations through the Christmas holidays.

Whilst out and about in your local green space, collect twigs and take these home to start making a Christmas star! If you find any fur cones, bring them home as well as these look great decorated.


  How to make a Christmas Star:

1.  Select 5 of the straightest twigs (of similar thickness) and snap them to a similar length, depending on how big you want your star to be.

2.  Arrange the twigs in a star shape and glue into place at points where they are touching. Leave your star to dry overnight.

3.  When the glue is dry the following day, decorate your star however you like! Let your creativity fly! How about painting with glitter, covering with gold or silver tissue paper or wrapping with sparkley thread?

4.  When your star is finished, attach some thread and find a good place to hang it. You could even pop it on the top of your Christmas tree!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Dolebury Warren's Late Autumn Fungi

I had a fabulous day out at Dolebury Warren on monday identifying late autumn fungi with expert help from local ecologist and mycologist, Justin Smith.

What a day we had! There were carpets of fungi to be found of every colour imaginable!  If you're out and about in Dolebury this autumn then have a look through the pictures below to see what you could find.

We found some very impressive fairy rings of Clouded Agaric. The size of fairy rings can be used to determine how old they are since they move outwards with time.

I enjoyed some of the Wood Blewit for my dinner, fried in garlic and butter...mmmm.

There was a huge array of different wax cap species that we found in the grass land areas of the reserve. These are often brightly coloured species with slimy caps. The slimey surface of many fungi acts as a protective measure against slugs and snails which although slimey themselves, are not so fond of other slimey things!

The bright colours of many of the wax cap fungi may make them appear poisonous however, a number of them, including the Scarlet Hood are in fact edible.

The distinctive smell of some fungi help in their identification. Rosy Bonnet (Mycena rosea) smells of radish; Clitocybe fragrans smells of aniseed and Hygrocybe nitrata smells of bleach (nitrous...hence the name).

Here's a few interesting ones for you:

The milk cap Lactarius deterrimus exudes droplets of 'milk' when damaged. This specimen gave a bright orange milk which turned dark red within 10 minutes.
You need to have a keen eye to spot Earth tongues. If you look carefully, you might see a few of these poking up out of the grass like little elf ears...or tongues!
And finally, the infamous Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) which we found nestled under some trees. It is probably the easiest fungus to identify with its distinctive red cap with white warts, and is often depicted in fairy tales alongside elves and goblins. This  fungus gained its name from the medieval tradition of breaking it into milk and using it to stupefy flies  for easy swatting.
There are more fungi photos from the day on our flickr page.

Thanks to Justin Smith for sharing his knowledge on a fantastic fungi filled day at Dolebury Warren!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Create your own Leaf Mobile

This time of year is beautiful with all of the rich colours of the falling leaves. Why not try and capture a bit of that autumn beauty to bring indoors by making your very own leaf mobile! It's a great activity to get kids outdoors and trying to find as many leaves as they can with different shapes and colours.

What you will need:

Colourful leaves
A heavy book for pressing (yellow pages work well!)
Clear sticky back plastic / contact paper
Tree branch (found on the ground, not on a tree!)

How to make your leaf mobile:
  1. Collect fallen leaves - try and find as many different types and colours as you can.
  2. Press the leaves between the pages of a heavy book for a couple of days to flatten them (the Yellow Pages work well!).
  3. For each leaf, cut two squares of sticky back plastic about an inch wider than your leaf.
  4. Peel the backing off one of the squares, lay it down sticky side up and place your leaf in the centre. Peel the backing of the second square and carefully place it on top.
  5. Punch a hole in the plastic above the leaf (at the stem end).
  6. Carefully trim the plastic around the leaf, making sure to leave a small border.
  7. Hang the leaves from a branch using thread and find a suitable place to hang your mobile. How about suspending it from a curtain pole?
  8. Now you can enjoy autumn all year round!
Have a go at identifying what tree your leaves have come from. Here's a leaf identification guide to give you a hand.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Hedgehogs still need help!

You may have seen Annie from the Help a Hedgehog hospital on Autumnwatch Unsprung last week. She talked about the importance of keeping your eyes open for the autumn orphans that are around at the moment.
photo: Gillian Day
Sadly these beautiful mammals have declined by 30% since the 1990's, mainly due to road casualties and loss of habitat, but increasingly, many young hoglets do not survive their winter hibernation due to a lack of fat reserves. Young hoglets need to reach 500g - 600g in weight in order to make it through the cold winter months so we need to do our bit by putting out fresh water and meat based pet food in this important time.If you do find a young hedgehog that you are concerned about, contact the Hedgehog Preservation society or a local group which you should be able to find online.

Some of you might be wondering about 'Sonny' that I mentioned in a previous blog. He was a tiny, hungry but very friendly autumn baby that I found in my own back garden.Thankfully, thanks to the great work that Annie and her team do, Sonny is making good progress and I hope to have him, and a friend, home soon to overwinter in a hutch in my shed. He still is less than 400g in weight and is therefore unlikely to survive the winter if he was released now so I am looking forward to giving him and his friend some TLC, along with some tasty mealworms, dried cat food and fresh water.

In the Spring they will be released into my garden so they can rummage around in the long grass, enjoy lots of tasty snacks from the piles of dead wood and compost heaps then sneak through the hole in the fence to my neighbours garden to explore the world beyond.

If you think you might have some hedgehogs around where you live, look out for footprints in the mud. Notice, the different shapes of the front and back feet and the distinctive tracks. You may also find hedgehog 'poo' on your lawn. This is very dark, almost black and you can sometimes see beetle wing cases within it.                                         For more information about hedgehogs and how you can help see our Wild hedgehogs website or become a hedgehog champion at Hedgehog Street -  a great project from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People's Trust for Endangered Species.
I'd like to say thanks, in particular, to Carole at Help a Hedgehog for the care and attention she has given Sonny to restore his health and of course, to all those who care for hedgehogs around the country.


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Exploring Brown's Folly Nature Reserve!

I took a trip out yesterday to Brown's Folly to take some pictures to include in the 'Nature Journal' we are currently compiling. It was a very misty morning with very atmospheric autumnal scenes.
Beautiful autumn colours!
A misty spider's web

All was very quiet, with just the 'swish' of walking through the thick carpet of leaves on the ground, until... 'Baaaaaaaahhhhhhhh'... I heard Daisy and Lou Lou , the two new residents of Brown's Folly!
Daisy and Lou Lou

These two gorgeous Wiltshire Horn sheep had moved in that morning and looked very happy indeed! You find out more about Daisy and Lou Lou here:

Find out about Brown's Folly Nature Reserve through our Wildschools website:

Follow us on twitter for all things educational, fun and wild!!/wildschools 

Monday, 7 November 2011

How to become a Nibbled Nut Detective!

Nibbled Hazelnuts                                 Credit: Preoccupations
 Autumn is the richest time of the year in the plant calendar as many bear their fruits and nuts. Nuts such as acorns, hazelnuts and chestnuts provide a welcome treat to small mammals as they fatten up before hibernating for the winter.

Venture out into the woods and try collecting as many nibbled nuts as you can find. Hazelnuts are the best for identifying what's been nibbling them. Use our nibbled hazelnut guide below to find out what's been nibbling yours! You might want to use a magnifying glass to get a better look.

Nibbled Hazelnut Guide
  • Squirrels split the nuts neatly in half.
  • Wood mice leave tooth marks on the nut surface and parallel toothmarks around the edge of the hole.
  • Common Dormice leave a smooth edge to the hole and their toothmarks are at an angle to the hole on the nut surface.
  • Bank voles create a round hole and leave tooth marks around the edge but not on the nut surface.
  • Great spotted woodpeckers break the nut into pieces or leave large irregular pieces.
  • Woodpeckers and nuthatches often wedge hazelnuts into crevices on trees to hammer them more easily.

Get involved and let us know what you found!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Victoria Park Primary School go Hedgehog-tastic!

Photo: Gillian Day
 A reception class from Victoria Park Primary School decided to choose The Avon Wildlife Trust as their charity for their school charity week. Feeling pretty happy about this, we decided to go in to the school and give them a morning full of hedgehog fun!

The children learnt all about how hedgehogs find their food by playing our hedgehog game - using their sense of smell to sniff out any slugs they wanted to eat and curling up into a ball if they smelt a badger!

Have a listen to the fantstic hedgehoggy facts the children learnt here.
We also got our hands dirty making clay hedgehogs with the group. Have a look at some of their creations below.

We rounded off the day with Ann's very own story, 'The Adventures of Spike The Hedgehog' whilst I acted out Spike's adventure in the Avon Wildlife Trust's very own hedgehog costume!

What a brilliant morning and great group of children. Thanks to the Yellow Class at Victoria Park School for choosing to support us!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Meet Sonny the hedgehog

A couple of weeks ago, on one of the last really sunny day of the year whilst eating his breakfast, my son noticed  a baby hedgehog outside our back door. Realising that it was very young and in need of food I offered it some mealworms and cat food, neither of which he would eat.
In a rush, a filled an empty box with dry leaves and brought him into the office where he was identified as being male. He drank some water and gobbled up a few live worms that staff collected from the Avon Wildlife Trust garden, after which he curled up and had a big sleep. Being an absolutely gorgeous creature and surprisingly receptive at being held, we all fell in love with him.
However, the next day he was taken to a hedgehog rescue centre in Stroud as he was only around 4 weeks old and still needed his mother's milk. A lovely lady called Carole is now syringe feeding him with special milk and keeping him on a heat pad until he gets a bit bigger. He has been steadily gaining weight ever since but it's unlikely that he will get big enough to hibernate and survive the winter. I'm hoping to welcome him back soon where I will keep him in a hutch and feed him through the cold months until Spring when he will be released into the wilds of my garden.
There's even been mention of having a girl too which will bring in new blood to the area and create healthier offspring so watch this space...........

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Autumn morning treats

What a beautiful chilly morning! Just behind the (Avon Wildlife Trust) Wild Schools office is Brandon Hill Nature Park. 

Lovely autumnal scenes this morning with the changing leaves, also treated to sights of squirrels eating a nutty breakfast and even spotted a jay!
 Now is a great time of the year to spot all of the abundant fruits, berries and nuts autumn brings, so why not get out into the woods and try some of our activities from our 'birds, trees and woodlands' learning resource page!   

Looking for nuts

The colours of autumn

Monday, 17 October 2011

Play our Guess that Skull game... not for the faint hearted!

Here is a Halloween-themed nature challenge! Can you identify what animals these skulls are from? We don't need spooky decorations at the (Avon Wildlife Trust) Wild Schools office - these skulls watch us whilst we work!

Skull A

Skull B
Skull C
Skull D

From left to right Skulls A, B, C and D
We will post the answers in a few days, so make sure you re-visit our blog  for the answers! Feel free to post your answers below!

Easton Primary School visit to Folly Farm

A fun day was had, packed full of activities at Folly Farm. The pupils learnt all about different habitats, the food chain and how some animals have adapted to become predators.
A strong favourite amongst the many activities was the pond dipping exercise. This involved carefully working around a small pond at the farm, to uncover what creatures lie beneath the pond weed! An array of creatures were discovered including newts, pond snails, dragonfly nymphs, water boat men and water skaters. We even took a closer look at some of them under the microscope and then tried to figure out what eats what!
Pond dipping

Another exciting  tasks was the dissection of owl  pellets. These are solid clumps of bone and fur that owls cannot digest, so cough up. They are extremely useful in identifying what owls eat. The pupils worked well as a team to investigate  the remains within the pellets and found shrew and vole skeletons. We also learnt how the owl has adapted to become a top predator, using his acute eyesight and hearing and deadly claws to catch small mammals. Interesting discoveries were also made during a  mini beast hunt in the woods, whereby microhabitats were searched and spiders, ladybirds, caterpillars, fungi and woodlice were found.
Finding small skulls in owl pellets

Hear, in their own words,  what children  from Easton Primary School learnt from their visit to  Folly Farm
For more information on learning outdoors at Folly Farm take a look at our website: 

Friday, 7 October 2011

Batty in Bath... Bats for Bath Walk

Last night the final bat walk of the Avon Wildlife Trust’s ‘Bats for Bath’ project
was held at the Bath Recreation Ground. With the autumn nights closing in, the darker evenings offer a great opportunity to spot and learn about these intriguing creatures, flying about in the night sky, before they hibernate in the winter months. 

Bat information on offer
The Right Worshipful The Mayor of Bath, along with other bat enthusiasts, attended the event that was led by Laura Plenty (Chair of the Avon Bat Group). Laura gave us an introduction to the weird and wonderful world of bats, the only true flying mammal that has evolved so that their hands are wings. Bats make up a quarter of all mammals, can catch prey using echolocation and are the only creature able to delay fertilisation so that they give birth during the spring when temperatures are increased and there is enough insects available!

The Mayor of Bath, Laura Plenty, Smarty the bat and a young bat enthusiast
She also explained that bats are a fully legally protected species, and that their decline (70 % over the last 20-30 years) has been brought about by increased urbanisation combined with the decline in woodlands since WWII and loss of hedgerows due to farming intensification.  She also highlighted that the caves and mines of Bath are an important stronghold for the rare horseshoe bat, with a quarter of UK horseshoe bats living at Brown’s Folly Nature Reserve (Avon Wildlife Trust). 

Smarty the rescued bat on display
 A real treat was the guest appearance of Smarty, a serotine bat rescued by Avon Bat Group that Laura now looks after. He is unable to fly because of an injury to his wing so cannot live in the wild. He is extremely cute and it was amazing to see a bat up close and hear the loud munching noise as he devoured some mealworms and beetles right in front of us! Then, armed with bat detectors, we headed out to find these fascinating clever creatures!

Getting a closer look
Bat detecting outside

Watching bats catching insects over the river
Want to find out more about bats? Why not visit the Bats for Bath website,  the Bat Conservation Trust or join your local Bat Group (Avon Bat Group, Wiltshire Bat Group) or you can hire a bat detector and audio trail from your local library for Brown’s Folly Nature Reserve in Bath, Willsbridge Mills, Wick Golden Valley and Warmley Forest Park in Bristol.
Bath's night sky