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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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.

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.

Amazing invertebrates, new friends and Wildlife Tots

This week I was delighted to receive some wonderful photos from Stuart Ball, a local entomologist (insect expert) and friend of Milton Locks. They are extraordinary shots and I have been eagerly awaiting a moment to sit down and share them with you.

broad-nosed weevil, Hypera sp. possibly

Broad-nosed Weevil by Stuart Ball

hoverfly Volucella zonaria, female

Hoverfly by Stuart Ball

Wasp spider, Argiope bruennichi, female

Wasp Spider by Stuart Ball

Stuart took these photos at our Friends of Milton Locks event last week. This particular spider is becoming a bit of a celebrity as Jim Craise also sent me another lovely photo of the very same animal.

Wasp spiders are fascinating creatures. This is the strikingly beautiful female. She uses her intricate web to catch grassland insects. The zigzag pattern on the web is designed to reflect UV light in order to attract prey. We’re very lucky to have such magnificent images to share with everyone. Thank you Stuart and Jim.

Jim Craise Wasp spider

Wasp Spider by Jim Craise

The events at Beddow Library and at the Reverse last week went very well and, as well as making new friends, we met some familiar faces. There were lots of families at the library, with children doing their summer reading challenge. I spent some time chatting to a little girl from Meon Infant School, who I had met on a school trip at the end of last term. She initially seemed at little confused and she asked me ‘Are you allowed to go to other places then?’. Often young children assume that I spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at Milton Locks and she was clearly worried that I’d escaped. She then went on to tell me all about the activities we had done back in July.

Next Thursday, I’ll be running another Wildlife Tots session for pre-school children and their parents and carers. If you or someone you know would like to come along, check out the details on the Upcoming Events section of the blog and call or email to book you place.

Dear Friends, Come and find out more!

I’ve been looking forward to this week for a while as there will be two opportunities to meet and chat to people who want to find out more about Milton Locks and the Milton’s Hidden Seashore Project. On Thursday 24th August, I will be at Beddow Library with an information stand and a wildlife quiz. If you’re free, do please pop in for a chat and to test your beach combing knowledge.

Outreach stand at local Library

On Friday 25th August, I will be on site at Milton Locks between 10am and 2pm for our Friends of Milton Locks event. If you are interested in getting involved with the project in some way. there is no better time to pop in. There are many ways to get involved, whether you want to sign up as a volunteer or simply share your wildlife sightings and stories for the blog. Perhaps you know of a place where you could put up a poster or a local organisation who would like a talk or a visit. Basically, the more people we can get talking about Milton Locks Nature Reserve, the better.

A sneaky peak!

I’m delighted to share a sneak preview of some of the creations produced at one of the recent art mornings at Milton Locks, ahead of our little outdoor art exhibition on Friday. Last Friday, several families braved the showers to join in the first of our morning workshops. All kinds of creativity took place, from the traditional, watercolour end of the spectrum, to the more unusual and high spirited use of mud and found objects.

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Part of a larger painting of the reserve by volunteer, Katy.

 

 

Muddy hand prints

It turns out that mud can be just as useful as paint.

If this has wetted your appetite for outdoor art, in a range of styles, why not pop along to the reserve on Friday 4th August between 11am and 2pm to see the fruits of our labours.

Summer holiday art antics

Morning all. I’m coming to the end of a raucously busy summer term, so normal blogging service will soon be resumed, as I have a little more time in front of a computer screen. This is just a quick post to let everyone know about our summer art events which have just popped up on the website.

Last summer, our Heritage Art Day was one of our most successful ventures, so this year we have dedicated more days to encouraging people to capture and celebrate Milton Locks through art. The following pictures, from last year’s art antics, give a flavour of the inspirational and extraordinary creations that were produced from a simple morning on the beach.

 

See the ‘Upcoming events’ button on the blog to find out how you can get involved or email me on Jess.Parsons@hiwwt.org.uk to find out more.