Sunday, 25 November 2012

What is it? #10 revealed

These lovely mushrooms are called wood blewitts (Clitocybe nuda) or blue stalk mushrooms. Blewitt is the old English word for 'blue' and they do have a distinctive blue tinge to them. There are found in both deciduous and coniferous woodland and are widely eaten, though some caution should be exercised as there are known to cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. 

They are quite a common mushroom and have a distinctive purple cap and stem. Care is needed to make sure that these edible mushrooms are not confused with the poisonous, larger purple species of Cortinarius fungi so please make sure you only pick them if you are with a mushroom expert. Often growing in fairy rings, the cap can grow up to 15cms and have a mild aniseed smell. 

They are a popular food amongst wild food fans who like to cook them in butter with leeks or onions and you can find recipes, more pictures and lots of useful information on the wildmushroomsonline website here. Of course there are lots of different types of fungi that grow in the British Isles. We'd love to see your photos or hear your stories so get in touch with me at and let me know what you find.

Friday, 23 November 2012

What is it? #10

Any idea what these are? They generally grow on leaf litter in woodlands but can also be found in compost heaps, grasslands and woodland clearings so can be found pretty much anywhere. This picture was taken at our lovely nature reserve at Folly Farm last November, so if you go out for a wintery walk this weekend, keep your eyes peeled.

I'll tell you more on Sunday!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Additional Autumn Courses for Reception and Key Stage 1
Autumn is a fantastic time to get out of the classroom, wade through the gorgeous colours of fallen leaves and discover how wildlife gets ready for winter.  We've designed some new courses especially for Autumn at the Folly Farm Centre available right up until winter officially starts on the 21st December.
Autumn Antics - Years 2 & 3
How do Folly’s woodland mammals and birds prepare for the winter time?  Perhaps they need to find a warm and dry place to hibernate during the winter months, or they might collect and store nuts and acorns to eat when food is scarce.
Follow a trail into the woods to discover what can affect jays, squirrels and hedgehogs as they try to survive through the winter.  Help them by doing some searching and collecting yourself.  Once in the woods have a go at hiding nuts, just like the jay who can store up to 3000 acorns, and test your memory to see if you can find them all again at the end of the day.  Find natural sources of warmth to ensure your own small mammal survives a cold winter's night.  Will it still be alive when you come back to check it in ‘the morning’?  In the afternoon get creative and have a go at finding the full array of colours amongst Folly Wood’s fallen leaves to create an autumn rainbow collage to take back to school.

Autumn Teddy Bears - Reception / Year 1

A programme following the main theme of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic but with additional activities which focus on how British animals prepare for and survive through the winter months.

During the morning discover the secret of SWAF through a story and some energetic games, then hide and store some acorns to eat during the harsh winter months when there is little food around.  At lunchtime set off on a trail to find the missing teddies and have a picnic in the woodland shelter or back at the centre.  Afterwards choose a cosy safe place to keep a furry mammal warm through the cold winter and settle it down for hibernation.  After a game come back to see whose mammal has stayed the warmest.  Finally have a hunt for the acorns that were hidden away earlier.

If you would like any information about our courses please email or call us on 0117 9177270 and make the most of learning outside the classroom this Autumn.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

What is it? #9 revealed

It's a privet hawk moth larvae, where you right?
These caterpillars grow into stunning moths that feed on privet, lilac and ash trees and could be in your garden or nearby park. But right now they will be buried deep in the leaf litter in their chrysalis getting ready to emerge next summer as a colourful adult. Moths go through a process called complete metamorphosis just like butterflies. This means that they go through four stages in their life, eggs, caterpillar (larvae), pupae, moth.
Privet hawk moth pupa
You can see that the fully grown moths have beautiful pink, striped bodies and hindwings which you think would make them really easily to spot. During the day they hide themselves away, resting on trees or even posts and if disturbed, they will flash their brightly coloured wings to warn off predators. They have a large wingspan of up to 12 centimetres, making them the biggest resident moths in the UK and a tasty snack for many birds and bats! They are only in flight during June and July usually so why don't you go on a night time exploration next summer and see if you can find any?

Friday, 16 November 2012

What is it #9

It looks like a green sausage but what is it? Ok, so it's a caterpillar  but do you know what type is it? Found in urban areas, forests and woodland habitats in the south of England, it truly is a spectacular creature with it's bright green body, distinctive stripes and black horn.

It pupates overwinter in the leaf litter to emerge as one of the largest lepidoptera found in Britain. As an adult it is full of colour, yet it camouflages itself well. There may well be some in your garden and you might not even know it.

What is it?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

What is it? #8 revealed

Were you right? The photo in Friday's 'What is it?' was taken last year when I found this little autumn orphan in my garden - a hedgehog we named Sonny. Sonny appeared by my back door just before I was heading off to work last year so I took him into the office to keep him warm and give him some food and drink.

I handed him over to a hedgehog rescue centre in Stroud soon after, where they took good care of him, feeding him milk and giving him some much needed medical treatment. Happily, he came back to my garden in the Spring, much bigger, healthy and with a female friend, to wander off into the undergrowth and, hopefully, enjoy many more years exploring gardens in the neighbourhood.

Hedgehogs are in decline - there has been over 30% drop in numbers since the 1990's - and much of this decline is thought to be the result of human activity and loss of habitat. People are increasingly digging up gardens to make driveways, using slug pellets in the garden, leaving rubbish on the ground and driving at high speeds along the roads at night - all of these things are harmful to hedgehogs. To find out more about the hazards hedgehogs face visit our Wild Hedgehogs page and explore the interactive picture.

And if you want to help hedgehogs in your garden leave out a small dish of fresh water and some crushed peanuts (the kind you would feed to birds), mealworms or even meat based cat food. Make sure there are areas of long grass, piles of leaves or just a slightly overgrown corner so that a hedgehog can find a good place to hibernate over winter.

Finally, if you fancy one of the Avon Wildlife Trust team coming to your school to give your class a free hedgehog talk and activity session in the new year then leave a comment or email Julie Doherty to find out more.
(Please note these free talks are restricted to central areas in Weston Super Mare, Bristol and Bath.)

Friday, 9 November 2012

What is it? #8

Snuffle, snuffle, what could it be? I can swim and climb, but you may not see me in the daytime as I'm well camouflaged. I have a tail and although I look quite cute I have been known to eat my own children! Right now I'm probably starting a nice, long and restful sleep .....zzzzzzzz
Just one thing..... I'm slowly disappearing from the countryside so come back on Sunday to find out what you can do to help me survive.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

What is it? #7 revealed

This recently renovated spacious family home was created by a colony of wasps, predominately the fertile queen. These fantastic architects make their home from chewed wood fibre to create a kind of paper and inside it is very intricately designed with open hexagonal cells to hold a single egg laid by the solitary queen. The queen starts to build the nest in the Spring, 20-30 days before egg laying. Once the larvae start to hatch the queen divides her time between feeding her offspring and continuing to build the nest. When the larvae are large enough they pupate and turn into adults, then they can help to look after the rest of the colony and the nest.The finished nest can contain up to 10,000 individuals. You can take a closer look at the inside of a wasps nest by watching this fascinating short film on the BBC Nature website

Colonies usually last only one year, with all but the queen dying at the onset of winter. Wasps need a lot of energy to continue to fly around gathering material for the nest and food for the larvae. They get this from gathering nectar from flowers and eating sweet, rotting fruit at the end of the Autumn.They also feed caterpillars and flies to their young. As this food source starts to disappear the adult wasps start to die off.
New queens and males (drones) are produced towards the end of the summer, and after mating, the queen overwinters in a hole or other sheltered location, sometimes in buildings. Wasp nests are not reused from one year to the next as they are too fragile and many would not last the winter.
Many people are not very keen on wasps and even question their reason to exist. So what is good about them? Well, they are pollinators, so they are very important for the production of fruit and vegetables, they act as pest controllers, eating lots of flies and sometimes spiders and they provide food for a range of other animals such as badgers, mice, frogs, birds and weasels. And consider this..... they won't actually sting you unless they feel threatened or are attacked so.... next time you see them just watch their behaviour and take a closer look at these amazing creatures for they may just be a swift or a frog around the corner looking for it's next meal.

Friday, 2 November 2012

What is it? #7

It's as light as a feather and thin as paper but what is it? Often found in roofs, garages, sheds and outbuildings but also in disused rabbit burrows and other neglected underground homes.

Can you guess? Come back later and find out!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Big Habitat Hunt competition

This morning I sat down with Tracy Carr from Western Power Distribution to look through the competition entries for our Big Habitat Hunt.This child-led survey of the school grounds was carried out in the summer term to investigate the potential for wildlife around schools in Avon. Pupils studied different habitats; ponds, hedges, school fields, trees etc to discover the amount of biodiversity that they had in school. Using this knowledge, pupils were encouraged to develop their own designs for improvement to their school and to make it more attractive to a wider variety of wildlife. Western Power Distribution have very kindly donated £1000 prize money to the best design so that the school can start to implement their plans.

Some of the designs were very creative, with underground classrooms, sharks and dolphins in the school pond and huge waterfalls! But some of the best designs made suggestions for small yet achievable changes that would create new habitats for wildlife, such as creating log piles, making bird boxes and allowing areas of grass to grow longer. For more ideas on how to develop your outside environment at school visit our wildschools website.

If you'd like to take a look at some more of the entries visit our Facebook page here and keep an eye on the blog to find out the winner!