The first two weeks of August were jam-packed with exciting things! But the one that made me squeal like a 5-year-old was Dormouse surveying!!! I went out on a fresh Wednesday morning with Ken, a very experienced and licenced Dormouse surveyor, and Alex from Batts Combe Quarry, to check about 50 dormouse nesting boxes on predominantly Hazel woodland that the quarry manages. We were very lucky, and saw several very lively dormice, including one pregnant female and a couple of youngsters! I learned how to distinguish dormouse nesting material from other potential occupants- Harvest Mice, Yellow Necked Mice, and Blue Tits. Dormice like to use soft nesting materials such as feathers and moss, and generally don’t drag lots of dead leaves inside. It was a fantastic experience and I’m now very keen to do my Dormouse handling licence and get involved with ongoing surveying of these beautiful, but sadly endangered little rodents.
During the first two weeks of the month I also continued working on interpretation for the Routes to the River Tone project, spent a day pulling ragwort at Chancellors Farm with the lovely Magnificent Meadows volunteer group and my fellow trainee Adam, and worked at the Taunton Flower Show- making hedgehog seed bombs and talking to the public about the wildlife they had spotted along the river.
I also worked with the Meadows team at two brilliants events. The first, a workshop for smallholders wanting to establish and manage their own wildflower meadow. After an initial talk about the different stages of meadow management throughout the year, we made our way to a privately owned patch in East Mendip where we cut an area of meadow, and transferred it to a pre-harrowed field across the road. This is known as the green hay method, as we cut and used stalks, leaves and all, and spread it on the recipient site immediately, as opposed to brush harvesting the seeds and husks, and leaving them to dry before spreading. The second workshop was for horse owners wanting to establish wildflower meadows- beneficial both for pollinators and other invertebrates, and for the horses as the hay cut provides an optimum food source- important in the prevention of Laminitis.
Later in the month came my week-long Level 3 Forest School Training, run by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and held at their beautiful reserve, Langford Lakes. There were only three of us on the course, which meant we had time for some great discussions, and managed to do all of our practical assessments during the week. We learned about forest ecology and management, had a go at coppicing, made a mallet, a wand, a kazoo, a charcoal pencil and charcloth, had a go at whittling a spoon out of Hazel wood, and learned a whole host of amazing knots and lashings including the clove hitch, the reef knot, the rolling hitch, the square lashing and the sheer lashing. We were also assessed on our ability to successfully and safely light Kelly kettles and camp fires, and on our shelter-building skills! All of the learning was under-pinned by the fundamental ethos of Forest School- that it is child-led, outside of the classroom, that it is learning though doing and experiencing, through play, and that there is no end goal- the process or journey is the learning. Through Forest School sessions, children are able to move away from a prescribed way of learning in which they are expected to meet certain criteria and levels, and instead are free to explore the world around them, with gentle and constructive facilitation by the forest school leader. Through these activities children are able to develop a care and respect for nature, for their peers, and for themselves. I really enjoyed the training and was wiped out by the end of the week! I now have to complete my portfolio, and plan and deliver six forest school sessions. I can’t wait to get underway!