Random Acts of Wildness

The last couple of months of the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project have been a bit strange for me, as I have been in the office more than usual. This meant I was extra delighted on Friday to get out to Milton Locks for our Random Acts of Wildness event.

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The idea for the event came from the Wildlife Trust’s nationwide challenge to spend at least 30 minutes with/in nature every day in June, namely 30 Days Wild. As Friday was the 1st June,  I decided to kick off my 30 Days Wild challenge in style by hosting a drop in event at Milton Locks Nature Reserve. I was aided in this joyful task by Tim Ferrero, the Trust’s Marine Specialist, Natalie Hands from Bird Aware Solent and a team of volunteers with a broad range of skills and expertise. We called the event Random Acts of Wildness because that is exactly what we would like people to partake in each for the duration of the challenge. Whether it is a scientific look at the shore animals, an artistic moment involving clay or simply a chance to walk, sit and absorb the sights, sounds and smells of nature, there really is a way for everyone to enjoy the benefits of discovering their wild side.

Despite some early mist, later clouds and exciting road works on Locksway Road, the event was a huge success and we saw over 60 people across the day, some of whom stayed for several hours. As you may have noticed, one of my favourite things is chatting to people about wildlife and the various activities on offer provided amble opportunity to start conversations. Towards the end of the afternoon, we were treated to a sail past by some members of the Locks Sailing Club, including volunteer, Hilary. We also got to watch the Club’s scheduled race in the water between Milton Locks and Eastney.

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Alison Barker, one of our longest serving volunteers, is an entomologist (insect expert) and took away some homework of making a list of all of the species we found on our bug hunt in the grassland that day. When she has finished, I will share the list on this blog as we found some interesting and exciting species. We also also enjoyed learning about the intertidal life with Tim. Highlights included watching cockles bury themselves in the mud and watching crabs, worms and molluscs as they moved around in our trays. We even spotted a tiny anemone.

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Safe to say, everyone had a brilliant time and learnt something new. For me personally, the day served as an important reminder. From the moment I arrived at Milton Locks at 8am until I left at about 3:30pm, I was unable to wipe the smile off my face. Spending time with nature genuinely makes me feel fantastic and it is always good to be reminded of the positive influence of nature on my own health and wellbeing. As I was driving home on Friday, I resolved make an extra effort to rise to the challenge of 30 Days Wild. Even when I’m busy and I have a hundred things on my to do list, there is always room for wildlife in my day and I rest assured that wildlife and wild places always have room for me too. Find out more about 30 Days Wild by visiting https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/30DaysWild/Random-Acts-Of-Wildness

 

 

 

 

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Milton Locks on film

This is just a quick post to let you know that the film, Life on the Water’s Edge, is now being shown on the big screen in Portsmouth Guildhall Square. The film was made last year for the Trust by local media company Strong Island. It celebrates life in and around the nature reserve, both in the past and in the present.

Life on the Water's Edge

You can find out more by visiting https://bigscreenportsmouth.co.uk/news/life-on-the-waters-edge-will-show-daily-at-1210pm-on-the-big-screen

A kingfisher, a seal in a nest and lots of splashing toddlers equals fun times on the hidden seashore

It has been far too long since I last posted on the blog, so I thought I would share yesterday’s adventures with you all. The weather was beautiful, and just after I arrived, at about 8:30, I was finally treated to a good view of our kingfisher. I didn’t get a photo of it unfortunately. I’ll leave that to the experts. If anyone would like to send me a picture of the famous Eastney Lake kingfisher to put up here, I’m sure people would love to see it. Regular visitors and local people have mentioned seeing it for a few weeks. I’ve heard its characteristic high pitched flight call a number of times when I’ve been working at Milton Locks, but yesterday morning, I finally saw the unmistakable flash of blue and orange to go with the sound.

After that magical moment, the volunteers and I set up for our February Wildlife Tots session. Although the session was fully booked, a couple of parents called in the morning to let me know their children were unwell. It sounds as though various germs are doing the rounds again. We still had several families to join in with the fun and what we lacked in number, we made up for in enthusiasm.

Water play in the sunshine

We had a high tide which meant that wellington boots were a good style choice. I had brought out all kinds of activities for the children to take part in, but the clear favourites were water play using buckets and items from our mud kitchen and making dens for cuddly toys. Although these activities sound very simple, they are wonderful ways for little ones to build a sense of familiarity with nature and curiosity in the world around them.

Here are some of the animal homes. The rabbit’s home was made of sticks tied together with grass and the seal looked very cosy in his nest. I must say, I’ve never seen a seal in a nest before, so this one must be very special.

The element of Wildlife Tots that I’m increasingly fond of, is the sense of community that seems to be developing. The sessions are not really just for the children. They provide a space for families, including parents and grandparents, to meet up and enjoy the simple fresh air and the opportunity to play together. We also have lots of volunteer help, so for me, it hardly feels like work at all.

Our next public event is the Milton’s Hidden Seashore Open Morning on Saturday 10th March. Why not pop along to help us welcome the spring.

Winter wanderings and a big thank you or two

I went for a quick stroll down at dear old Milton Locks yesterday on my way to run some errands. As promised here is a photo of the newly positioned entrance sign and also a beautiful blackboard sign produced by my artistic colleague, Emma.

I wandered on down onto the reserve itself, which was looking beautiful in the thin, wintery light. The north wind stung my face, which after a morning in office, isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds. The tide was low and various waders and Brent Geese were busily rummaging in the mud. If you get the chance, and you need a break from the madness of the festive season, why not pop down and absorb the sights and sounds of the winter wildlife. A thriving community of plants and animals are quietly (sometimes noisily) living, unnoticed, metres from our houses, schools and businesses. Personally, I rely on peaceful, wild moments like these to see me through the mayhem of life in our urban corner of the world.

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My visit wasn’t long as darkness was creeping in and a long list of other jobs calling me.

As we are fast approaching the end of another year, I felt it would be a good moment to say a big thank you to everyone who has been involved in the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project across 2017. It has been a wonderful and slightly exhausting year. This year alone, I have met over 2600 people either at Milton locks Nature Reserve or at other events across the city.

I’ve seen 641 children on formal education visits (through their school or home education group) and a staggering 877 adults through outreach visits such as talks or information stands. We also made 43 new, tiny, friends through our fledgling Wildlife Tots programme.

Thank you to all of you, whether you have volunteered, turned up at an event, picked up a bit of litter or stopped to chat to me at the reserve when I’ve been setting up for something in the teeth of a gale.

Financially, the project is being made possible by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since January 2016, we’ve had a whale of a time creating a sense of excitement and pride in the nature reserve and in the surrounding community. I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who buys a lottery ticket. You are helping Milton’s Hidden Seashore, and all kinds of other awesome projects across the country, to enrich the lives of so many people. More information about lottery funded projects at the Trust and special events happening this weekend, can be found at http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/HLF-thank-you

Seasons greetings everyone and see you in 2018.

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Robin by Jim Craise

Hair cut time for nature reserves

 

As winter tightens its grip on our beautiful British landscapes, the practical conservation management season begins for nature reserves up and down the country. Milton Locks nature reserve is no different, and the main job that needs to take place is to give the place a good cut back. Every year, my colleagues and our wonderful volunteers go in with brushcutters, loppers and saws to push back the scrub and ensure the patchwork of habitats remains intact. What looks like a rather harsh operation is in fact a carefully calculated effort to ensure that the balance of open grassland, scrub and woodland is allowing as much wildlife as possible to use the nature reserve. If we left the reserve to its own devices, the likelihood is that most of Milton Locks  would be covered in scrubby bramble and baby poplar trees. Whilst we do want some bramble, many of the insects, reptiles and our lovely Kestrel rely on the open sunny grassland habitat.

The volunteer team were down there this morning. I popped in to deliver them some cake and catch up with Reserves Officer, Chris. I took a couple of photos whilst I was there.

In addition to the ‘scrub bashing’ as its called and some litter picking, the volunteers are also moving the entrance sign of the reserve. It has long been a mystery to us as to why the entrance sign wasn’t actually at the entrance of the reserve. Instead, it has always been set back a few metres from the beginning of the footpath. As I left this morning, the volunteers were just preparing to move it to a more proud and prominent position. I’m excited to see it when I’m at Milton again later in the week.

November 17 Sign moving

I will share photos of the results of the tidy up as soon as I have them.

 

Rain or shine, there’s fun to be had

I write this post, sitting at home, wrapped around a cup of tea, gently thawing and slowly drying out. After years of trying, this autumn we have managed to extend the outdoor learning ‘season’ beyond the October half term. Of course it is perfectly possible to learn and play on a nature reserve at any time of year, but the challenge has been convincing people that they want to come along to outdoor events or workshops in November. This week I have been down at the marvellous Milton Locks three times. Once for November Wildlife Tots , once for a meeting and again this morning to work with a group of child-minders. As I drove back this afternoon, I was keen to sit down and share some photos and some tales from the seashore.

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Murky Milton Locks

On Thursday, we had a very well attended Wildlife Tots session. The aim of these sessions is to provide outdoor play opportunities for under 5’s, their parents and/or carers. As we were setting up, the volunteers and I suddenly noticed that we had some nosey visitors by the tarpaulin.

 

A family of mute swans were quietly rummaging through our bags of equipment, probably looking for food. We didn’t have any food, but we did have a lot of very small children about to arrive, so I gently herded the handsome family back towards the sea. We often take our swans for granted in this part of the country. However, they are impressively large and beautiful birds up close. They can also be a little bit scary when they want to be. Swans are also a good analogy for the way I sometimes feel before an event or a school visit; calm and collected on the surface and paddling furiously underneath.

The swans left and the families arrived. Paddling in wellies, mud pie making, story reading and general exploring were all on the agenda. The weather was kind to us and we even glimpsed the sun for a few minutes.

Weather wise, today was a different story. It was forecast to rain at about 12noon which would have given us two dry hours of the three planned for our workshop. Unfortunately, it started raining at 8am. My chief volunteer (also known as my very forbearing husband) came along first thing to help me set up and I bumped into several of our friendly dog walkers as I was preparing. The child-minders were coming to Milton Locks for a workshop designed to build their confidence to take their children outdoors. The seven ladies who attended were very keen to try things out, share ideas and join in with a bit of silliness. Who needs sunshine when you have friendly, inspiring people to hang out with.

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One of the activities I often run with adults who work with children is to give each team, of two or three, a hula hoop. The teams’ challenge is to make a picture in the hoop and for everyone to guess what the picture is of. These are the three picture from this morning. I’ll leave you to guess what they are. Feel free to share your answers via the comments button.

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The outdoor part of the morning, unsurprisingly, finished earlier than expected and we retreated to the Thatched House pub for coffee and a conversation about play styles and useful ideas.

If you would like to find out more about Wildlife Tots, click on the Upcoming Events button above to see information about dates in the future.