Outdoor Learning Experiences

Supporting learning and engagement with the natural environment for all ages

Author: Frances Harris

Knowing our Nature: new monthly series

Knowing our Nature: What is happening in the countryside in May

In the March Parish Magazine, we advertised that there would be an open meeting to discuss conservation issues in the Parish. Obviously, we were not able to meet in the pub due to the lockdown measures, but a meeting was held by Zoom.  The aim was to provide an opportunity to engage with members of the community about farming and the countryside, and to discover what was important to people and why. One of the things to come out from all of this was the desire to continue engaging with people, and the need for more sharing of information, and education about our countryside. As a result, we thought it would be interesting to write something each month f, explaining what the farms are up to, and what you might see in the countryside. Initially published in the Parish Magazine, we thought these articles would also provide a useful blog and resource for years to come.  So this is the first of 12, written in April, but looking forward to May.

April has been a month where spring crops have been sown, and cows are calving. Winter sown crops have enjoyed the good weather and are now coming along well and needing fertilising.

In May, we anticipate further calving. The cows of East Hall Farm will be out and grazing the fields around Stagenhoe. We practice mob grazing, which means that we keep the animals in a tight herd and move them on to fresh grass each day. This means that the grass is grazed thoroughly, but then left for between 30 – 60 days to grow tall and set seed, before being grazed again. The cows are circulated through sections of grazing, delineated by moveable electric fencing, and so only return to the same field after all other grassland land has been grazed. So if you see the cows, they will be nearby, but not in the exact same space, the next day.

The Bluebells will be almost coming to an end, but you may still catch some in Reynolds or Hitch Wood. Bluebells do not survive either picking or trampling, so please, enjoy looking at them where they area, but stick to the footpath and leave them where you see them.

Spring and early summer is also a great time for flowers. Hitch Spring has tremendous wildflowers – cowslips, wood anemone and lesser celandine grow well. Other flowers to be seen in May are common spotted orchids, pignut, bulbous and meadow buttercups and Lady’s smock. Along roadsides cow parsley will be coming out, and elder flower will also be coming out. There are some pretty early flowering grasses to see in meadows too in May – crested dogstail, sweet vernal grass and meadow foxtail.

Common Blue butterflies are flying by the end of May and can be seen in hay meadows as their caterpillars feed on birdsfoot trefoil and clover.  Other butterflies to look out for are red admirals, peacock, brimstone, comma, large white and speckled wood which likes the edge of woodland but may come into tree filled gardens.  Holly blues are on the wing now but can also be seen next month.

Most songbirds will be nesting by May and the best time for the dawn chorus if anyone can rise early enough (4.30 to 6.30am) will be the first week of May. The familiar yellowhammer song of ‘little bread and no cheese’ can be heard from hedgerows. Swallows, house martins and swifts will have returned to their regular nesting sites and be repairing their nests with mud from local ponds and wet places.  Other migrants such as spotted flycatchers will have also returned.

In some years, we have had cuckoos in Reynolds Wood and Hounsfield wood. In previous years they have arrived in early May. Last year, I did not hear to many in Reynolds, but I hope they will be back in force this year. It is possible to hear their distinctive call from quite far away. This year, with the reduction in flights from Luton Airport, I hope it will be even easier. In fact, I have noticed much more birdsong this year already.

Towards the end of May tawny owlets may be seen as they nest early in March.

There is also likely to be lots of activity on or near water. Frog and toad spawn will have hatched so plenty of tadpoles around and look out for large dragonfly nymphs too which enjoy eating a tadpole or two.  On the Mimram, stonefly larva and caddis fly larvae were seen in March, and mayfly larvae, which will of course be more active in May.

If you spot anything interesting, or would like to contribute your knowledge to these monthly nature updates, please let me know by emailing info@outdoorlearningexperiences.org

 

Compiled by Frances,  with supporting material from Sarah Kohl and Julie Wise.

Making and Easter Garden

How to make an Easter Garden

The aim of this exercise is to make a small model representing Good Friday and Easter. Ideally it will include the hill with three crosses (Jesus was crucified with two other men, one on each side), and also the garden where he was laid to rest. You might want some distance between the two.

Find the largest tray you can. It might be from the kitchen, baking cupboard, or an old drawer, or a box with low sides.

Gather some dirt to fill it so you have some earth from which to mould your landscape.

Choose one end to be the hill and the crucifixion, and add more dirt to create a mound, representing the hill on which Jesus was crucified. Make three crosses and put them in place – these represent Jesus and the two criminals who were crucified alongside him. The story of the crucifixion can be found in the Bible in Matthew chapter 27, verses 32-56, Mark 15: 21-41, Luke 23: 33-49 or John 19: 7-37.

At the other end, try to recreate the garden where Jesus was buried, and the tomb.

We know the tomb was made of rock, so perhaps gather rocks to create a tomb. Effectively you are trying to create a cave, or space, where Jesus’ body would have been laid. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’s body from the cross and took it to the tomb (Matthew 27: 57-61), Luke 23: 50-56, Mark 15: 42-47 and John 19:38-42).  You could consider placing a small shrouded figure inside the tomb before you seal it. This garden area can be decorated to look nice.

Imagine the landscape of time, and decorate your garden as you like.

Don’t forget that on Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection, you can roll the stone away, as Jesus will rise and the tomb will be empty. The story of Easter morning is found in the Bible in Matthew 28: 1-10,  Mark 16: 1-11, Luke 24: 1-12 or John 20:1-18.

We’ve created a short video with instructions.

Summer events: Easter and Summer Forest of Frogs Camps

Since 2014 we have offered a week of summer camp which combines drama activities with nature art and craft and forest school. Aimed at primary school children, the camp provides a last chance to enjoy the summer sunshine and be outdoors. Children have created and then acted out their own plays, coached by drama teachers.  In some years, a group of older children, 13-18, have rehearsed and performed abridged versions of Shakespeare’s A mid-summer night’s dream, and The Railway Children. A local artist has encouraged them to become creative with clay, willow weaving, flowers and leaves. And of course, there has been den making, hide and seek, treasure hunts, and camp fires on which to toast marshmallows, lead by a forest school leader.

After taking a break last summer, we have regrouped and are now offering two opportunities for children to be involved in our camps. At Easter, we will be offering a two day taster, focusing on Roald Dahl’s stories, which will take place on April 16th and 17th.

From  August 24th – 28th, we will be offering a full week (Mon- Fri) of activities.  Details of the theme for the summer event will be published in late Spring.

If you are interested in experiencing more drama in the gardens, we have several events lined up. At Garden Open events, you can enjoy a stroll around the gardens, and a cream tea or cakes.

If you are interested in outdoor theatre, the Handlebards will be performing  “A comedy of Errors” in May, and Felici Opera will be performing highlights from Opera in July. See the details below.

Sunday 29th March – Garden Open, in aid of National Garden Scheme (NGS)

Thursday 16th – Friday 17th April – Children’s activity camp “Forest of Frogs” in the Garden. Outdoor theatre workshop, nature art and craft and forest school.

Sunday 5th May – Garden Open, in aid of National Garden Scheme (NGS)

Thursday 28th May – Outdoor theatre: Shakespeare’s A comedy of Errors, performed by The Handlebards. In aid of All Saint’s Church, St. Paul’s Walden.

Sunday 7th June – Garden Open, in aid of National Garden Scheme (NGS) and also Open Farm Sunday.

Sunday 12th July – Concert in the garden. Puccini, by Felici Opera, in aid of Garden House Hospice

August 24th -28th – Forest of Frogs Summer Camp. Outdoor theatre, nature art and craft and Forest School.

Forest school for adults?

 

This autumn I have been privileged to lead 3 events which have provided opportunities for adults to engage in forest school activities.

In September I lead a forest school session for participants at a workshop at Cumberland Lodge, in Windsor Great Park. Having spent the morning discussing PhD projects, students and supervisors were invited to a clearing in the woods, and offered a choice of resources and some ideas for what they might like to do. I am always amazed how quickly a large group can seem to disappear in a woodland area, as people settle in to doing something they enjoy. Some chose to work together, to develop a structure (in this case, the challenge was to build a boat) and create a scenario which explained why they and the boat found themselves in the woods. Others took on the challenge of building a bird’s nest. Some used leaves to make art, and others used some clay to create people and in one case, a whole community, struggling to climb to the peak of a tree trunk (there was lots of symbolism in that one!). It was generally quiet, people were focussed on what they wanted to do, and it was very calm. After about 2 hours it seemed naturally to come to an end, and the group who built the boat put on their play, and others shared the outcomes of their activities. I was struck by how rarely adults are given the opportunity to just ‘play’ – to chose what they want to do without being influenced by demands of work, or domestic chores, or obligations. Everyone really seemed to enjoy this time to just be, to explore their ideas and to be creative.

In October, the annual even Art in the Woods took place in Hitch Wood. About 150 people attended, and enjoyed the opportunity to work with clay, willow, fallen leaves, acorns and chestnut cases to create art. Children and adults attended. Some of our regulars came for their annual nature art and craft fix. Tree faces, more complex art installations, dens, mini-worlds, and willow weaving all combined so that after the event, the clearing in the woods was transformed. While some people enjoyed the opportunity to chat with friends, many were engrossed in the opportunity to create something, challenged to use natural materials. There is a certain joy in creating something which you can leave for others to enjoy as they walk by in subsequent days and weeks, knowing that ultimately it will decay and the woods will return to what they were.

In November, we held a wreath-making workshop. About a dozen people walked the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury, identifying foliage and other materials which might be useful in decorating a wreath. Although many plants are fading at this time of year, we found variegated box and holly, the final browned fronds of ferns, seed heads, mistletoe, and reds from crab apples, rose hips, mahonia, and holly. Using willow which grows in the gardens, a frame was woven. Then the decorating began. Old man’s beard, pine cones, and some dried satsumas and limes also added the final touches.

Throughout these three activities, people really stopped to notice nature, and were inspired by its beauty. For a few hours, they enjoyed the opportunity to use their imagination to be creative and to try something new. We tend to think that play is for children, but in fact, everyone deserves some moments to experiment, test out ideas, and to feel proud of what they have achieved. Nature affords us tremendous opportunities, if we allow ourselves the time.

 

Outdoor Learning Experiences at the Climate Strikes in London

Along with so many others in the UK, and around the world, we attended the climate strikes. Climate change will affect our lives in so many ways in the future. In fact, it already affecting our lives in so many ways.

A strong concern for the environment underpins the development of Outdoor Learning Experiences. Central to the ethos of Outdoor Learning Experiences is the belief that people need to engage with and learn about nature, so that they can then value it.

We aim to achieve this through a range of experiences, for example

  • Forest school encourages people to learn through play in woodland areas. Through touching, seeing, smelling and playing with things, children engage with nature first hand. Collecting and making things in nature art and craft encourages people to observe and examine natural objects more clearly, and to develop a relationship with nature. Regular and repeated visits to a site allow people to develop an attachment to a natural place.
  • Visits to farms allow people to walk through the countryside, and learn more about how it is managed, including the challenges of trying to meet our needs for food while also caring for the environment.
  • Outdoor science lessons enable children to learn in more detail about nature and wildlife all around them.

These activities are not just for children – and Art in the Woods, our annual celebration of nature art and craft in Hitch Wood, is coming up on October 13th, 2019 and open to all. Farm visits are offered to school children, University students, and other community groups, upon request.  The annual Open Farm Sunday provides an opportunity for people to come to our farm open day in June each year.

Environmental change will shape what we can grow in future years, whether that be annual crops for food or tress planted now with the expectation that they will reach maturity in 40 or more years.  Climate change may change our landscape, the wildlife, and our farming, over the next generation. So attending the climate strikes in London was a natural thing for us to do.

Autumn 2019 upcoming events

Art in the Woods will take place again on Sunday October 13th, 2-4 pm. Nature art and craft and delicious cakes and hot drinks in Hitch Wood. Click here for further information.

In addition, some local organisations are running events at East Hall Farm.

Saturday September 21st, Bat Walk, St. Paul’s Walden. See Down the Woods to book.

Sunday September 22nd, the St. Paul’s Walden Bury Run will be taking place. Starting at St. Paul’s Walden Bury, you can chose to run either 2k, 5k or 10k distances across the lovely Hertfordshire countryside where our outdoor learning also takes place. Outdoor Learning Experiences is not organising the run, but supporting through volunteering. See St. Paul’s Walden Bury run for more details and to register.

 

Wednesday 16th October, Hertfordshire Forest School cluster group meeting at Within the Walls, St .Paul’s Walden from 3 pm.

 

 

Upcoming events

June 9th is Open Farm Sunday, so we will have some displays in the field in front of St. Paul’s Walden Bury, and also be offering tractor-trailer rides around the farm. This is an opportunity to find out more about the local countryside, what we produce, how we manage the environment to support wildlife, and our system of grazing cattle. Alongside this, the Bury Gardens are open for the National Gardens Scheme charities, from 2-7pm with teas served by the PCC or WI. There is a charge to enter the gardens, which goes to the charity, but Open Farm Sunday events are free.  Within the Walls community garden project is also open, so if you are interested in knowing more about what they offer, or how you could help, do drop in.

This is the best time of year to learn about farming, and so if you know of a group or school who would like a farm tour, please do get in touch to arrange a mutually convenient time.

Through the summer term we will also be welcoming school children from St. Paul’s Walden school and Preston school for forest school sessions.

In August, we will be running our Forest of Frogs Summer camp, from August 19th – 22nd. Children aged 6-12 can engage in forest school, drama, nature arts and crafts and treasure hunts in the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury. This year bookings are through eventbrite. There is a link from the home pages of www.stpaulswaldenbury.co.uk and www.outdoorlearningexperiences.org websites.

In September, the St. Paul’s Walden Bury run will take place on Sunday the 22nd, starting and finishing in the gardens. There are 10k, 5k courses, and a 2k fun run available. Autism Angels runs this event to raise money for their charitable work.

Our outdoor season ends with Art in the Woods on October 13th, from 2-4:30 pm in Hitch Wood.