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Join us as we head out for small adventures in nature, making our lives a little bit wilder one step at a time.

By brittalippiatt, Nov 21 2018 11:58AM

Winter can be a challenging time to get outdoors, be it for a walk or play, and I must admit that even I am sometimes tempted to stay at home, snug and warm, rather than heading out into the cold - or worse - the cold and wet. But once I am out there, I am usually very glad to have made the effort - and can really appreciate the warmth and cosiness of the house afterwards.


In short, there are two important factors for successful winter outings: having the right attitude and realistic expectations and keeping yourself warm. There is no reason why we shouldn't get outdoors – just the opposite. Just like in warmer weather, we all still need outside time to get fresh air, light and exercise. And if we want us and our children to truly connect with nature, we need to experience it in all seasons and all weathers. Here are some tips for successful winter outings.



Staying positive and realistic

Thinking about outdoor play in winter, for me, is not about staying out for hours on end and enduring harsh conditions, but rather getting out at all. It is better to have half an hour of good quality time enjoyed by everyone than an overly ambitious half day trek with children who are cold and crying and who will, understandably, next time refuse to go out at all.


It doesn’t take a lot of effort to turn a short winter’s walk into an adventure. Just take some wool or rubber bands and find a stick plus some of nature’s treasures along the way to create your very own journey stick. Use 'Go find it' cards or make up your own scavenger hunt. Or how about some bark rubbings and winter tree ID? The Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives have lots of ideas here.


Hypothermia is a real risk in winter, so it might be a good idea to get familiar with symptoms and treatment. However, prevention is the key, so once one in the party gets cold and a hot drink and/or moving around doesn’t cut it, it's time to head home.



Staying warm

Positive attitude alone doesn’t make for a successful winter outing if we get cold, so it is important to have the right clothing, for us and our children. For people in countries who are used to cold winters this comes as second nature, but for us in (relatively) mild Britain, finding the right clothes, especially for babies and toddlers, might prove a bit of a challenge.


This is the minimum clothing I dress my 4-year-old in when she heads to her Forest School in cold weather:




Needless to say that I dress very similar to that, with a minimum of three layers on my legs and normally at least five on my upper body. My new merino wool thermals have already proven very useful this year. Lots of my children’s outer clothes have come from Little Trekkers, an online shop specialising in children’s outdoor equipment, but there are a whole range of suppliers, unfortunately mostly online.


When it comes to footwear, it can be a bit tricky but planning for this will make all the difference as a person with cold feet is not a happy person. I see a lot of children wear wellies and while they are great for the rest of the year, they are not ideal in winter as they are normally not well insulated. It is possible to improve the situation very easily by putting some insoles in – sheepskin or even just some newspaper will make a difference, as will warm welly socks. We have had good experience with wellies made out of neoprene, fleece lined winter wellies, snowboots and also sturdy Gore Tex boots worn with warm socks.

Lastly - if you ‘baby wear’, i.e. carry your little one in a sling or wrap, I can highly recommend investing in a baby wearing coat. I have not been toastier throughout winter than when I carried my youngest daughter and we warmed each other by sharing a coat - it really was amazing. There are different options available with different price tags, or you might be able to pick up a used one.



Join us for some winter adventures

If you are keen to continue playing outside - we are going to run one of our parent & toddler groups right through the winter, with a warming fire, yummy hot chocolate, a big tarp for shelter if needed and lots of space to run around. Booking for Little Owls will be open shortly on www.bookwhen.com/natureconnections.










By brittalippiatt, May 5 2018 09:34AM

Bluebells, for me, are the epitome of woodland magic. The carpets of purply-blue, looking almost as if they hover above the woodland floor, are just out of this world, too beautiful to be true. I do love, and I mean love, woodlands all through the year, but the bluebells are the icing on the cake.


I also have a very personal connection with bluebells. Two of my children were born in mid-April, so the arrival of bluebells is mixed in with the joyous celebrations of birthdays. One of the first outings with my older daughter was to see the bluebells at Standish Wood. Three years later, when my youngest took her time to make an appearance and we decided to go for a walk to hopefully move things along and to lift us up, there was only one place to go – back to the bluebells at Standish Wood; she was born a few hours later.


So, here is a list of some of my favourite Gloucestershire woodlands – they are worth a visit throughout the year but don’t leave it too long if you want to see them under their cloaks of purple.


1. Standish Wood, National Trust

You can park at Shortwood car park (charges apply) just above Whiteshill (Stroud) and head into the woods from there:

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/haresfield-beacon-and-standish-wood

Or approach things from the other side of the estate, parking at Ash Lane car park in Randwick:

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/haresfield-beacon-and-standish-wood/trails/randwick-ramble

The estate offers some outstanding views over the Severn Estuary as well as the Stroud Valleys, some iron age remains and wonderful limestone grasslands.


2. Siccaridge Wood, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

This wonderful woodland lets you feel a hundred miles away from it all, yet it is easily accessible from Stroud and Cirencester. Parking is very limited but there is a sign by the pub (The Daneway Inn) to say you can park there if you buy a drink. There is a stream which the kids love to go in, so come prepared with some spare clothes.

http://www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk/reserves/siccaridge-wood


3. Buckholt Wood, managed by Natural England

Buckholt Wood is close to my heart as I helped to manage it for a year when I worked as a warden for Natural England. It has lovely open rides and glades, perfect for butterflies and other insects. There is a car park just before reaching Cranham coming down from the A46.

http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/1736969


4. Coopers Hill, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

Buckholt Wood’s neighbour, Coopers Hill, is mostly famous for cheese rolling but it is also a wonderful place for an afternoon stroll. There is a waymarked family trail that takes you past the cheese rolling hill which, if you haven’t seen it yet, is jaw dropping, but my personal favourite is the lovely wildflower meadow about half way through the walk.

http://www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk/reserves/coopers-hill-glos


5. Nagshead, RSPB

Again, a woodland with a personal connection for me as I spent some time there during my university studies. As you can expect from an RSPB reserve, there is an abundant bird life and some hides to let you watch our feathered friends from behind a screen. There is a lovely short walk, perfect for little legs, and a pond near the car park which makes an ideal picnic spot.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/nagshead/




Bluebells are still common in the UK but they are also under threat. The main worry is habitat destruction as we are losing our ancient woodlands to developments for housing, roads and other infrastructure. However, the is another threat in form of an invasive foreigner: the Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica. It was introduced by the Victorians and soon started to escape their gardens to cross-breed with our native bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, creating a new species, Hyacinthoides x massartiana. For more information about our native bluebell as well as the difference between the native and Spanish visit http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants-and-fungi/woodland-wildflowers/bluebell/


If you would like to support the vital work conservation charities like the National Trust, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the RSPB do, please consider becoming a member. GWT and the RSPB have fab children’s and family memberships which include regular wildlife magazines and activity ideas. Also check their websites for local events and volunteering opportunities.


I am always keen to explore new places, so please do let me know about your favourite bluebell woods (if you are willing to share them, that is).





By brittalippiatt, May 2 2018 09:30PM

Until recently, stinging nettles have only brought very limited to joy to my life and only in so far as to knowing that they are food plant to some butterfly larvae and generally great for wildlife (which is why people are encouraged to leave some patches of nettles in a corner of their garden). Just reading up on www.nettles.org. uk (yes, this exists; they even promote a 'be nice to nettles week') there are in fact about 40 insect species dependent on stinging nettles which I find astounding.


However, finding a use for a plant in my experience totally changes how you look at it which was again confirmed with this one. Stinging nettle crisps are one of the Forest School things that are quite popular among practitioners, so I thought we give it a go in our Woodland Explorers home ed group; we always have a fire going there and have done quite a bit cooking over the winter to keep us all warm, so it is the perfect place for trying some more adventurous things. Literally no one expected much of the nettles, but how wrong we were! Stinging nettle crisps are delicious! And so easy to make - here is how:


Collect the uppermost, freshest stinging nettle leaves. Be sure to take them from a place away from dog wee spots (yikes). Gloves are of course advisable to avoid the needle-like hairs on the leaves and stems that can give you a nasty rash. If you feel very brave, there is a way to pick them barehanded without being stung, although there is no guarantee for that! I grab them just under the first four leaves with a determined, slightly upward motion and so far have been lucky with this (I have probably just jinxed it!).


Once you got your nettles, heat up some oil. When it is really hot, chuck the nettles in and turn them until they are slightly crunchy and crinkle up - it will only take a couple of minutes. Take them out and drain them well on some kitchen paper. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top if you like, and enjoy!




Stinging nettles can of course be turned into a lot of other things and, apparently, they are really healthy, too, containing vitamin C and lots of iron. There is nettle soup, nettle pesto, nettle beer, among others, and the stems can be made into durable natural string. And all this from a plant that is usually just considered a weed and a health hazard.


P.S.: Please note that you should not use stinging nettles once the flower has started to develop; they then contain tiny pieces of calcium carbonate which can be absorbed by the body and cause kidney problems.




By brittalippiatt, Jun 8 2017 07:31PM

I have to admit, I am still quite new to foraging, but I really am loving it. Last year was the first time we tried elderflower cordial – so quick, so simple, so delicious (I will post a recipe next week). What surprised me the most though was how foraging changes your perspective of the landscape. Where you have only seen a hedgerow before, there is suddenly a hedgerow with elder, and lots of wonderful cream-coloured flowers that would taste really lovely as a drink. Once it is imprinted in the brain, there is elder everywhere, just waiting to be picked.


For my Forest School sessions I was looking for something with elderflowers that can be done in two hours. Cordial needs to be left overnight, so that was not an option, and then I stumbled over elderflower fritters. Perfect!


Our first try was not great though. A book suggested to use buckwheat flour as a gluten free alternative to wheat, and as we have a vegan in our parent & toddler group I thought I just try buckwheat and water as a simple dough. My daughter and I went out in the driving rain to pick some flowers (apparently they are best and most aromatic though when it is nice and warm), so there was quite some effort involved, but the finished product, we said in unison, was simply“yuk”.


A good friend suggested to just use a normal pancake batter, and, hey presto – success! We have now had two lots of elderflower fritters on the campfire (any cooker at home will do) and we all thought they were absolutely delicious. So, here is my step by step guide:



1. Find some elder

Elder is quite easy to identify but you do need to be 100% certain that you have the right plant as there are other shrubs and flowers with similar flower heads that are poisonous. Elder itself is actually slightly poisonous as well, including the berries, which is why they need to be cooked before eaten (in some countries they are very popular in desserts and as syrup). The leaves actually smell very unpleasant which is a giveaway as well. Have a look here for some more information on elder and how to identify it.


2. Cut about 10-12 (medium sized) flower heads

The best ones will have only just started flowering. Make sure you don’t take all the flower heads of any one shrub; they are very popular with all kinds of wildlife, too.


3. Wash the flower heads

At home, dunk the flower heads in cold water to get rid of any dirt or small insects that might be hiding amongst the flowers. Then shake off the water and leave to dry. Cut off any leaves and thick stalk so that you are left with the flower heads only.


4. Prepare the batter

Either use your favourite pancake recipe or try the one below.

For 4 people just mix together:

• 50 g flour (we used gluten-free self-raising flour)

• a bit of salt

• 1 egg

• 90 ml milk

• 30 ml mineral water

• Some lemon (to taste)

• Some honey (to taste, we used quite a lot)


For the vegan alternative we just replaced the milk with coconut milk and left out the eggs but I am not an expert in that field, so just have a little play.


5. Fry the fritters

Heat some (quite a lot of) oil in a pan. Dunk the flower heads into the batter then put them into hot oil. You can carefully cut the rest of the stalks off with some scissors while in the pan so that you can turn them around and bake them from the other side. Or you can try and bake them from one side only (making sure, of course, that they are baked all the way through) and eat them directly from the stalk. They are done once lovely golden brown all around. Use some kitchen roll to get rid of excess oil.


6. Enjoy!







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