Why outdoor learning?

Jo Rawson, Volunteering and Community Involvement Manager at the National Trust’s Hardwick Hall, tells us about working with schools, decorating Christmas trees and why outdoor learning is about more than school visits…

What made you do what you do?

As a child I remember going to visit Clumber Park, a National Trust place in Nottinghamshire near to where I grew up, with my primary school class. I was already a bit of a wild child; we always went camping on family holidays and I spent much of my childhood outdoors. At Clumber, the ranger took us bird watching and I got to teach my classmates about the birds we were seeing. We also got to watch the Rangers (or Wardens as they were then) fell a tree, and all shouted ‘timber’ as it fell.

After that I was hooked. I knew I wanted to do something to do with the outdoors and help inspire others to love nature as much as I did.

Finding adventure in the woods. © Jo Rawson

Finding adventure in the woods. © Jo Rawson

Is outdoor learning important?

Massively so. When they come to Hardwick, children learn about life processes and living things, environmental change and sustainable development. We take them pond dipping in the fish ponds, bug hunting in the park and have a go at bush craft activities; things they probably couldn’t do in their own school playing field.

The biggest opportunity we have to connect children with nature is by giving them the nature bug when they’re here to learn.

This is us thinking about the future. If we don’t connect children with nature now, we’ll have one hell of a job convincing them as adults to care about the places we protect or interest them in becoming members, volunteers and staff.

Looking for creatures in the pond. © Richard Williams

Looking for creatures bythe pond. © Richard Williams

What are you doing at Hardwick?

We take school groups around the hall and estate. The Elizabethan hall was home to one of the most powerful women in the Tudor era, which offers plenty of opportunities to dress up and dance like Elizabethans. The park and surrounding countryside is teeming with wildlife and a great place to see first-hand the impact of people on the landscape and how we are still living from the land today.  

There are also more informal opportunities for schools to come to the estate and run their own activities. Two local schools organise weekly forest schools sessions in the parkland. Recently, teachers from another school got the whole school doing a sponsored walk from school to Hardwick Hall, ticking off 50 things activities as they walked.

Within a seven mile radius of Hardwick Hall live over 380,000 people. We try to do as much work with schools in the local community as possible, but work particularly closely with two local primary schools. The children can visit Hardwick for free, which is great as many of the pupils live within walking distance. The pupils at these two schools helped us design our play trail here and they come every year to decorate their own Christmas tree as part of our community Christmas tree decorating. 

One of the barriers to schools coming to Hardwick is the cost of transport. Hiring a coach to take a school class down the road is expensive. So we head into schools sometimes to talk to teachers and pupils about what we do and get them involved in projects and activities to help us or their school. We often go out to school galas with our brightly coloured National Trust branded gazebo and big box of 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ activities.

Is it just about schools?

Schools, obviously, offer an opportunity to talk to lots of children about nature, history, or whatever it might be, all at once. But learning’s about more than schools.

Our Wildlife Watch and Youth Ranger groups provide something more for children living within our local community, who want to learn a bit more about the wildlife and play an active role in managing the landscape we care for. Working with a local scout group, we’ve also just launched a new guide for beaver, cubs, and scout groups on how they might use the estate to get their badges.

Really, though, anyone can learn at Hardwick. There’s so much to discover. I’ve been here for eight years and I’m still learning new things every day.

Discover more on Hardwick Hall’s website.  

Celebrating play at Castle Drogo

Playday is a national celebration of play, with play events up at down the country. We spoke to Paula Clarke, Community Engagement Officer at Devon’s Castle Drogo, about what she’s doing at the castle for Playday. 

What are you up to on Playday?

Set against the fabulous backdrop of Dartmoor, Play is going to take over Piddledown Common (yes – Piddledown) on Wednesday 6 August from 2pm until 4pm. This will be the third year running that Playday comes to Castle Drogo. We’ll be joined by local play enthusiasts for a day of fun, free activities including arts and crafts, bushcraft, drama and games.

What else are you doing to get people playing?

I’ve been at Castle Drogo for eight years. Connecting the place with local people is a huge part of what we do. We don’t want to be that big posh house on the hill, so we’re exploring different ways to make the Castle relevant and attractive for people.

All through summer we have games out on the lawn: hula hoops, tennis, and free croquet lessons. It’s not just children who play. We’re exploring playful ways of encouraging people of all ages to explore the history of the castle. Drogo is home to a considerable collection of old postcards. Rather than lay them out in display cases, we’ve blown them up in size, stuck them on card and created a giant postcard theatre. People can dress up in Edwardian clothes and play their way through the landscape!

Admiring the view over the countryside from the roof at Castle Drogo, Devon. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Admiring the view over the countryside from the roof at Castle Drogo, Devon. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Why is Castle Drogo so special?

We’re surrounded by the wild; the castle is overlooks the woods, heath and moor of Dartmoor. We can do most of the 50 things here. Almost all of them, in fact – except the ones that require sand, sea and rock pools.

We take advantage of the wildness: Castle Drogo is one of the homes for Wild Tribe, a bushcraft club run by our rangers that gives kids the chance to try things like fire-making. It builds kids’ confidence and competence in the outdoors, helping them feel braver in the wild.

Children are at the heart of what we do. The castle was built by retail magnate Julius Drewe not to impress the local gentry, but to be a home for his family. I like to think that Mr Drewe would have wanted his family to be running around, exploring the house and the grounds.

Which is what we’ve been trying to encourage. Kids love to explore the castle, forever asking if they can lock their younger brother or sister in the dungeons. I haven’t the heart to tell them that we haven’t got any.

The castle is currently in the middle of a major restoration project to protect it from the Dartmoor weather. This building work means that the whole castle has been turned inside out and it has given us the opportunity to tell new stories, open bits of the castle never seen by the public before, have ‘Meet the Builders’ days and give people the chance to climb the viewing tower and see how the conservation work is going. Building work can be fun!

 

Join the Castle Drogo team from 2pm on Wednesday 6th August for Playday. Everyone is welcome for this FREE event. Just follow the bunting from the main car park to discover the Playday base.

Finding zen by the fish pond – Wildlife Watch at Hardwick

Jo Rawson and Jenny Middlehurst try out yoga and fire-building with the kids at Hardwick Hall’s Wildlife Watch group

The last two gatherings of our Wildlife Watch Group at Hardwick have certainly been diverse! April’s meeting involved practicing wildlife themed yoga out in the park in the sunshine, while May’s fire lighting session saw the children sat around a campfire toasting marshmallows.

Wildlife Yoga 1 LR (2)

Last year we were contacted by a local yoga instructor about a wildlife themed session with our watch group. Children’s yoga is becoming more and more popular and our instructor Anna wanted to trial a wildlife themed session in the outdoors and she couldn’t think of a better group to do it with.

It was a gloriously sunny day with singing birds and wild flowers all around us, perfect for relaxing and re-energising. We began with a gentle warm up, practicing our breathing and gentle movements. As the session was based on the story of spring, the children were able to add their own elements to it and come up with their own moves. Incorporating them in this way certainly helped keep them engaged in the activity – as well as getting them to try some of the trickier moves, which resulted in adults and children alike falling around laughing.

Of course, the beautiful weather helped to make this day special but doing something slightly different to the norm was also really enjoyable. Having a diverse range of activities, some calmer and more relaxing as well as the active and adrenaline fuelled ones really helps us to have a well-rounded, constantly different programme of activities. Which brings us on to our next session in May…

Fire lighting is always a big favourite on our wildlife watch programme. I’m not sure if it’s the adrenalin rush of setting fire to something without matches or just the yummy melted marshmallows and buttery popcorn that draws them in but the two are certainly a magical combination. We began with a fire safety talk sat around the camp fire circle in our Wildlife Watch area. The children then took it in turns to have a go at lighting cotton wool using a striker. All the children who wanted a go managed to light the cotton wool to a big round of applause each time.

Fire lighting LR (2)

We used potato peelers to peel spikes onto the end of sticks so we were ready to toast our marshmallows. Then it was time to light the fire in the centre of the circle and the children took it in turns to help build the fire up and really get it going. The children absolutely loved sitting around the fire toasting marshmallow after marshmallow! An old colleague had made us a contraption out of two sieves and a stick to cook popcorn over the camp fire and it works brilliantly. Once we’d all eaten our fill of popcorn and marshmallows, we handed out stickers for the National Trust’s ’50 things’ scrapbooks.

I think the children earned their sticker for ‘cooking on a campfire’ today!

Find out more about the Wildlife Watch group on the National Trust website.

Advanced Warning: Extreme Tides and a Changing Coastline

Richard Neale, Coastal Engagement Project Manager for Wales, reflects on the effects of the winter storms along the Welsh coastline

Last summer, I received an email from our coastal and marine advisor entitled “Extreme Tides in 2014 – advanced warning”.  Astronomical predictions by the National Oceanography Centre were suggesting tides of up to a metre above normal, and if low pressure ‘surge’ conditions coincide, then we were to expect even higher tides.

Church Rock white out in Pembrokeshire

Few of us thought at the time that the ‘croupier’ that governs the natural world’s machinations was to come up with a royal flush deal. One that delivered a succession of storms that changed the shape of our coastline, destroying homes, lives and livelihoods and prompting a debate that goes to the root of our relationship with the natural world.

This shouldn’t have come as surprise to those of us who have been managing coastline for the National Trust. Ten years ago we published the seminal report, Shifting Shores. This advocated moving from defence as the only response, to a range of solutions that include adaptation. Put simply, if we can work with rather than against the forces of nature we can avoid the agonising human and financial costs and gain a more natural, beautiful and wildlife-friendly coast to boot.

Testimony to our general adherence to this principle is that the National Trust in Wales came off quite lightly as far as structural damage is concerned.  Sure, we’ve had to cope with dozens of eroded paths, dislodged bridges and mountains of seaborne flotsam which has cost us tens of thousands of pounds and thousands of hours of staff and volunteer time. But these costs are nothing compared to the £11.4m that Natural Resources Wales estimated was the cost of storm damage to infrastructure along the entire Welsh coast. 

Rhossili coast damage-26

The most notable affects that we had to deal with included: the severed path to Rhossili beach, Gower; the loss of most of the car park at Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire, where erosion we’d predicted would take 5-15 years happened in just a couple of days; the near-breaching of the Cemlyn shingle ridge on Anglesey, with implications for the rare tern colony; and concerns for the medieval church and other properties at Llandanwg, Harlech.

PMYBC2012 06 Abereiddi 2014 02 10

Practical solutions to these and many other effects of the storms are now being worked on by my colleagues, armed with the adaptation principles championed in Shifting Shores. But a much greater challenge exists; the hard-wired belief that nature must be bent to our will at all costs.  The never-ending story of our coast – and the tale of a certain deluded Anglo-Scandinavian king – stands as a warning to us all in this respect.

Knightshayes’ trees battered by winter storms

Senior Ranger at Knightshayes in Devon, Raef Johnson, tells us how the storms have affected this country estate.

On my first day as senior Ranger at Knightshayes, I was met by a locked gate and a property closed sign. The day was Monday the 28th of October and marked the first of the storms that would batter our trees almost uninterrupted for the next four months.

Winter was characterised by constant monitoring of the Met office website, opening and re-opening of the property and taping off paths and dangerous trees. The buzz of chainsaws and chippers filled any respite from the winds, but with nearly fifty large to very large trees down, or worse hung up, the efforts of just two rangers could never keep abreast of the next wave of damage.

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As I write this now in March, however, we have had more than a fortnight without any epic winds or downpours. The ground is drying up and the trees are remaining vertical, meaning once we have found funding for a timber trailer and grab we can start winching, cutting up and removing what must be nearly 500 tonnes of windblown timber.

My debut winter at Knightshayes was a real baptism of fire, but out of the flames, or more exactly the storms, has risen much opportunity. Branch wood is being logged to establish onsite firewood sales and other more valuable timber is being sold to local timber merchants and wood workers for milling. Other felled trees will remain to decay and provide deadwood habitats, while some of the most impressive trunks will be reborn as wood carvings and even natural play features for children.

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And if that wasn’t enough good news, as well as being fully open now, I can sleep a lot easier in the knowledge that if the trees that are left stood up to this winter’s barrage, they can stand up to anything!

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The Times They Are A-Changin’ for the coastline

This winter has seen some of the worst storms in living memory with many coastal places being pounded by the weather and fierce seas.  Nature writer and author of a book about the coast due out in spring 2015, Patrick Barkham, reflects on the changing British coastline.

 

It’s hard to describe that feeling when you go to a favourite beach and find it reshaped by the sea.

After the winter storms, I visited Wells-next-the-Sea and was completely disorientated by the virtual disappearance of the outermost dune. I’d played here as a boy and proposed marriage here too, and now it was gone.

It’s hard not to experience such change as loss. I wanted my old beach back.

Many of us will be going through similar experiences after the winter storms have changed our coastline, in some cases beyond recognition. To see the much-loved railway to Cornwall swinging like a rope bridge at Dawlish is a shock but it is a man-made structure. It is far more disturbing to find natural features we assume to be immortal, such as the rock arch at Porthcothan Bay, Cornwall, and the great stack on the south side of Portland, in Dorset, destroyed by the raging sea.

For the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to visit as much of the 742 miles of coastline protected by the National Trust as I can to research a book which will help celebrate the fiftieth birthday of the Trust’s brilliant Neptune Coastline Campaign next year. I may have to retrace my steps because so many of the special places I’ve seen have been transformed by the storms!

I arrived at Birling Gap by the Seven Sisters last summer as the finishing touches were being put on the Trust’s chic new cafe and education centre. This building has been cleverly designed to be gradually shifted away from the crumbling cliffs as they erode but the Trust is already having to remove its sun lounge and ice cream parlour after seven years of erosion in just two months.

Like access to Birling Gap beach, the main path to Rhossili, that great surf beach on the Gower, has been battered by the storms and fifty metres has washed away. When storms hit, in many places coast paths are the first to go, and for an organisation committed to public access like the Trust, this is a particular headache.

However, the changes storms bring have their upsides too – if we allow them to happen.

From what I’ve seen, the Trust’s approach to coastal management is to permit natural processes of erosion and accretion to occur where possible. So at Brownsea Island, for example, newly eroded material from crumbling cliffs is finding its way along the shore and building up on its beaches. Reuben Hawkwood, Head Ranger for the island, hopes that the south shore beaches will have more sand on them than they’ve had for some time.

Sand dunes and salt marshes are naturally constantly shifting environments and Sandscale Haws on the Cumbrian coast, for instance, has benefitted from storms creating new blowouts and bare patches which will suit rare pioneering plants and insects.

Wild things often cope better with wild weather than we do. Like everyone, I struggle with change but I think the aftermath of the storms of 2013/14 will encourage us to adapt, like nature does, rather than always seek to defy the sea. Our coastline wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t always changing.

You can follow Patrick Barkham on twitter via @Patrick_Barkham.  Patrick’s new book on the National Trust’s Neptune Coastline Campaign will be out in spring 2015 and his latest book ‘Badgerlands’ is out in hardback now.

Cracks appear at Birling Gap

Jane Cecil, General Manager for the South Downs, explains how the cracks along the cliffs at Birling Gap were formed.

 

Birling Gap“The large cracks along the cliffs at Birling Gap are something that happens naturally from time to time. However, as a result of the recent storms coupled with very high tides, we have lost a lot of shingle from the beach which normally protects the base of the cliffs. We have also had a lot of rain over the last few months so the chalk – which the cliffs are made of – is saturated and heavy.

“You used to be able to look down at the beach and it was a mix of grey and white, but now it is almost completely white. This telling change reflects the loss of shingle, which has left the base of the cliffs very exposed and the soft chalk open to erosion.

“A second factor that has left the cliffs even more vulnerable is the high level of rainfall we have experienced. The porous chalk absorbs huge amounts of water leaving them incredibly heavy. The added weight causes the large cracks, which can separate and fall away from the cliff.

“The cracks have been there for some time, but over the last few days they seem to have grown. Unfortunately it is impossible to predict when the slabs of chalk will fall away, so we have taken the precautionary measure of taping this section of the cliff off.

“The beach has been closed since New Year but the bottom of the steps, which have been taken away for repair, should be back in place by the end of March.”

How the winter storms affected National Trust places

Outdoor Nation Blog Update

The recent extreme weather has caused devastation across the country. Many National Trust places have been affected by the winter storms – including coastline, woodland, houses and gardens. To keep you up to date on how the places in our care have coped and our thoughts on adapting to the realities of extreme weather, we’ll be using the Outdoor Nation blog to tell our story.

As well as posts from people across the Trust, we’ll also be adding voices from outside the organisation to reflect on what these more extreme weather events mean for the coast and countryside we look after.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts over the next few weeks and welcome your comments and discussion.

Coast in the news

National Trust’s Claire Graves looks back at how our coastline has coped with the extreme weather of the last few months.

What a time to become the National Trust’s Coast 2015 project manager… it’s week three in my new role, and what a rollercoaster three weeks it has been.

Technically, my job is to bring a spotlight onto everything we do on the Coast in 2015, especially celebrating the 50th anniversary of our incredibly successful Neptune fundraising campaign. However, recent events have focussed my attention on the immediate impacts on our places, working with our property colleagues and press office.

Flooding has been, quite rightly, top of the news agenda over the last few weeks, with people’s lives and livelihoods in upheaval. And our hearts go out to them as they face incredibly testing times.

Meanwhile, the high tides and storm surges have been having a huge effect on National Trust coastal places, causing years-worth of erosion in very quick time – over-night in some cases.

Birling Gap

Our Director of Land, Landscape and Nature, Peter Nixon, summed up our position in his article published on the Guardian website today:

“A succession of storms, some very high tides and incessant downpours this winter have brought into stark relief Britain’s exposure to the weather. Adapting to these conditions and the increasing frequency of extreme weather, with more confidence of a link with climate change, is a big challenge for the National Trust and for the nation.

“Many of the coastal places that we care for have seen dramatic changes this winter in a very short space of time. At Birling Gap in Sussex there has been seven years’ worth of cliff erosion in two months and Formby on the Sefton coast in the north-west lost eight metres of sand dune in just one afternoon. Access to Rhossili beach on the Gower peninsula in south Wales has become virtually impossible, with the bottom 50 metres of the footpath washed away by the storms.”

Check out the full article here:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/21/uk-floods-adapt-plan-somerset-levels

Lots of other media outlets followed our story too. And you can check out some of the impacts our places have suffered on our website:

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1355824158683/

Our teams will be undertaking a full assessment of the impacts over the coming weeks, working out what we need to do now to make places safe and accessible, but also for the long-term.

So, some challenging – and exciting – times ahead for the National Trust.

Claire Graves

#NTCoast

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