I don’t know about you but getting outside into nature has been such a joy and release these last few weeks in lockdown. I valued my daily dose of nature, whether that’s the birds singing in the morning, the sunlight streaming into the garden or the smell of the wild garlic in the wood close to home. All these precious moments have been held tightly and savoured because they have been so important in managing my mental health.
Yet, as I have walked through my local nature area, I have become rather troubled. During the lockdown, the rubbish bins have been closed and folks have been asked to take their rubbish home. Disappointingly, that has not happened. Rubbish and dog waste are now piled on top of the bins and on the floor beneath.
This made me start thinking, what should we do to make the most of family time outside, and protecting the natural environment. So here are my three important ‘what to dos’
1. What to bring?
The right footwear. If you and your family are off out for walks, then sturdy shoes are important, to support and protect feet. In hot weather, it is tempting to wear thin strappy sandals but these leave you more at risk of turning an ankle on uneven ground. Parents put your children in shoes that are waterproof, provide good foot support and are fine to scuff. This sets children free to scramble up muddy banks, climb trees, run in the long grass or paddle in streams and if your feet are equally protected, you can join them!
The right clothing. First, check the weather forecast. Is the weather stable for the day or changeable? Is it going to be very hot or will there be a cold wind? Use this information to make decisions about the type of clothing you will need to wear and the extra clothing you might need to carry.
If you are staying local, then getting caught in a rain shower might be fun. It won’t be long before you can get back home and dry off. It might have been a good idea to pack a waterproof coat as a precaution, but no damage done. However, it is essential to pack waterproof coats, if you and your family are heading further afield. Getting caught in a rain shower and spending a couple of hours soaking wet is no fun and can easily lead to hypothermia, particularly with younger children.
Extra jumpers are also good to take, just in case. Weather on hills and moors can change pretty quickly. Hats, gloves and scarfs will keep everyone warm in colder weather, while sunhats and long-sleeved t-shirts offer protection from the sun when it is hot.
When I worked with children in a Forest school, I always insisted they took coats and jumpers with them to the wood, unless it was a really warm day!. I explained that it was easy to take clothing off, but not easy to put it on if you hadn’t taken it with you.
2.What to take away
Lots of memories – Try finding some local walks and as a family explore them. The length and complexity will depend on the age of the family members, but a walk through a local wood can involve identifying trees, or playing hide and seek type games. A stream provides endless opportunities for paddling, stone collecting and playing poo sticks. I fondly remember childhood visits to local beauty spots. It usually involved a picnic and lots of walks. It was always extra special if my gran came too!
Lots of photographs – In the age of the mobile phone and the time of the selfie, its never been easier to capture moments. But what do you do with them? Do these stay on your phone, are they shared on social media.
Lots of rubbish – whatever you bring with you, snack wrappers, plastic bottles, cans, dog waste, wipes etc, then take them home. Better still use reusable drinks bottles, and try taking snacks wrapped in recyclable paper. If rubbish does accidentally blow away, at least it will disintegrate quickly.
Lots of blackberries – Foraging for food is something civilizations have done for centuries. There is nothing quite like a blackberry pie made from blackberries picked on a countryside ramble.
3. What to leave behind
Closed gates – Be kind to farmers and their livestock. If your path takes you through a closed gate, then make sure it is firmly closed when you have gone through it.
Flowers – It is illegal to pick, uproot or remove plants if by-laws are in operation which forbid these activities. This would be local council planting, Nature Reserves, Ministry of Defence property or National Trust land and you should not take plants from a site designated for its conservation interest. In other areas in the Uk, according to the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), it is the removal of whole plants that is illegal, so picking wildflowers is ok, so long as its for personal use. Other countries in the EU have similar legislation.
Buttercups, daisies and dandelions are examples of wildflowers that it is possible to pick and they are perfect to make crowns and chains and check for the butter preferences. Here a link to other wildflowers that can be picked. But a word of caution, wildflowers are part of the food chain, bees, butterflies and other creatures rely on them for food and shelter, be wise and leave more behind than you take.
Animals – bug hunting and collecting tadpoles is a really fun activity, but again these creatures have a home, put them back carefully in it!
Undamaged Trees – Climbing trees is great fun for all ages. My other half has climbed an oak tree before now in order to get a good phone signal and face timed me from it – very romantic. So in order to keep both the tree and yourself safe, here are my tree climbing rules.
Climb trees with branches thicker than your arm
Face the tree truck while climbing
Always have three body parts in contact with the tree e.g. two hands, one foot or two feet, one hand
Climb up and climb down
I hope you have found my ‘What to-dos in nature’ helpful and that you and your family will be more confident and care full when spending time there.