Spring Woodland Nature Walk – Home Education Adventure

Since starting to home educate our 6 year old son in the autumn, we have done a lot of nature-related activities. We have gone on numerous nature walks. We have looked at how plants grow, how flowers create fruit, and discussed many things including birds, trees, soil living creatures, beetles, bees, fungi and lichens.

Young children learn a lot from just being in different environments, exploring, seeing different things and asking questions.

A walk in the woods - nature, beech trees and sunlight
A walk in the woods – nature, beech trees and sunlight

We have been looking at bluebells, the new tree leaves and other plants.

We have enjoyed listening to the birds singing in the trees, discussed different types of birds, and tried to identify them by their different bird-song.

We have also been looking at bugs and bees in the garden. We used a mobile phone camera to take some close-up photographs and then zoomed in to see them in more detail (including some dead flies and other insects we found). We also looked at them with a magnifying glass or miniature microscope.

We want to spend more time studying insects – especially bees and butterflies – and want to visit some wildflower meadows in the next month.

Foxglove plants
Foxglove plants (Digitalis) growing at the edge of a woodland

Home education and nature

Prior to coronavirus, we were going to regular meet-ups with other home educators. Most of these meet-ups have been outdoors, often at National Trust properties, and at other places which are managed to promote nature and wildlife. Nature walks were a common feature.
We spent a lot of the winter standing around in the cold, while the children entertained themselves climbing over logs, looking at bugs and fungi, playing in muddy puddles and generally socialising with each other. We soon realised that home education of young children often means spending a lot of time outside, exploring nature in all weathers.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus outbreak, our home-ed meet ups are not currently possible, but we still do our own nature walks nearer to home. Luckily we have some woodland and hills very close to where we live and have spent a lot of time there in recent weeks, walking along some of the quieter paths – which not many other people know about.

A spring nature walk in the woods

During our recent nature walks, we have looked at and discussed the different things we have seen or heard, including the trees, plants, the birds we see (or hear), the soil we were walking on, and the geology of the area.

In early May we did a spring nature walk in the woods – the walk lasted just under an hour.

There was a role-play game to do with explosives on the path, which we had to avoid by waiting and then moving away from the area very fast!
We also discussed litter which we saw near the path and the possibility of doing some litter-picking.

Apart from these minor distractions, most of the discussions during the walk focused on nature and our surroundings.

Bluebells, birds and light

As we walked along the paths through the trees, we looked at the bluebells (which were everywhere we looked). We talked about the different types of bluebells (the native English bluebells and the Spanish bluebells) and that the areas closest to the road had a mixture of English, Spanish, and hybrid bluebells (including a few different colours).

We looked at the light coming through the trees and their new bright green young leaves, and listened to the birds singing (most were probably shouting ‘This tree is mine!’ to the other birds).

Collecting fallen tree bark for a bug hotel project

Our first stop was at a fallen pine / conifer tree which had lost large chunks of bark. We collected some pieces of tree bark to use in our bug hotel.
We looked at the fallen tree trunk, the fungi growing on it and the insects and grubs living in soil which had accumulated around it.

A large oak tree

We stopped under a huge oak tree on the side of the hill. It had new bright green leaves which were almost glowing in the light. I asked Tristan if he knew what type of tree it was. He didn’t, so I picked up some dried leaves from the ground and told him that those were the leaves from that tree. He still didn’t know so I told him it was an oak tree. We then discussed its shape and twisted branches, and that it was probably a native English oak tree.

Leaf compost

Then we looked at the ground which was covered in fallen oak tree leaves. Under the leaves was a layer of broken up leaves, and under that even smaller pieces of leaf, until it eventually became an amazing compost-rich soil.
We discussed how creatures such as woodlice and worms help to break down the leaves and eventually make a rich soil which feeds the plants.
Oak tree -> dried fallen leaves -> broken up leaves -> compost

Bracken and ferns

We saw some new bracken shoots growing on the hillside, so we discussed why bracken was a problem and why bracken is bad for the area.
If left unchecked, bracken can spread a long way. It can out-compete other plants, such as our native ferns. Bracken has underground rhizomes which store energy and allow it to spread easily.

Bracken
Bracken – tall stems with fern-like leaves
Fern plants
Fern plants – the leaf stalks radiate from the centre of the plant

We looked at the difference between bracken and fern.
Bracken leaves and fern leaves look very similar. However, bracken grows a single tall upright stem and the leaves grow out from the sides of the stem, whereas the leaf stalks (or petiole) of ferns radiate out from the base and the centre of the plant.

We also discussed how removing the young shoots of the bracken by cutting or breaking them can help to weaken the plant, and that this can help to reduce its spread, and if done repeatedly can eventually kill the plant.
(When we are able, we will follow this up with a visit to the Malvern hills, where sheep help to control the bracken – the sheep eat the young bracken shoots and their repeated eating stops the plant from growing.)

Walking home

We continued our walk and climbed up the hill, until we reached the main path at the top of the hill. We collected a few pine cones along the way.

As we walked back home we look at the views and also looked at a display board about the geology of the area (we will will look at this in more detail at a later date).

We walked home keeping a look out for rabbits, but didn’t see any this time. However we did see where they had been – where they had been digging, and where they had left their distinctive poo behind.

Explore nature and learn more

Learn more about nature and explore the nature in your area.

Woodlands, fields or even your own garden (if you have one), are good places to explore nature.

If you want to get in touch with nature and do something new, there is a National Trust article looking at how to get connected to nature which may help you.

Springtime walks are a great way to wind down and relax, and spring is a great time to see the best of woodlands and nature.

Trees

white tree spring blossom
White tree spring blossom – possibly hawthorn

Spring blossom is still around. To learn more about blossom and how to identify the blossom of cherry trees, hawthorn or elderflower, try the National Trust’s blossom watch article.

Late spring (May/June) is a good time to collect elderflowers and make your own elderflower cordial.

The new leaves of oak and beech and other trees in May are stunning. Their bright new leaves glow in the sunlight, but they soon darken as they mature.

The Definitive List of British Oak Trees & Their History

Learn about the English Oak from the Woodland Trust.

A-Z of British trees – Woodland Trust

Birds

Walk into any woodland, field or many gardens in the spring and you will see and hear many different types of birds. Spring is a busy time for birds, and where we live we cannot walk outside without disturbing robins, blackbirds, wood pigeons or jackdaws.

If you want to identify an bird you have seen, the RSPB have a page where you can choose features such as feather colour or size, and you will get a list of possible birds along with pictures. Or try the bird A – Z for more details on a specific bird, including its song.

There is also a guide to birdsong and bird spotting from the National Trust

Wildflowers

Woodland wildflowers

Many woods are full of wildflowers, especially in the spring before the trees have opened their leaves. In the spring, look out for bluebells, wild garlic (ramsons) which you may smell before you see them, and cow parsley on woodland edges and paths.

Wild garlic (ramsons) growing in a damp woodland
Wild garlic (ramsons) growing in a damp woodland

Later on, look out for honeysuckle twining itself over thin branches, bramble flowers and tall foxgloves.

Woodland wildflowers – Woodland Trust

Bluebells

The superstars of a woodland in spring have got to be the bluebells; they create a carpet of violet-blue flowers.

Our native English bluebells are a delicate (and protected) species.
They have drooping stems, have flowers only on one side of the stem and a sweet fragrance.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta spends most of the year under the ground as a bulb. Its leaves emerge in March/April and its flowers in April/May.

Bluebells and woodland - English Bluebells
Bluebells and woodland – English bluebells

The Spanish bluebell is a bit of a thug which can out-compete our native bluebells. They are larger and taller than English bluebells, have larger leaves, an upright stem with flowers all around the stems and no fragrance.

Spanish bluebells were imported by the victorians as garden plants, but they escaped and spread. They can hybridise with the English bluebell, creating new plants with a mix of features from both species, the result is that many bluebell woods now contain Spanish bluebell or hybrids.

Bluebell – Woodland Trust

How to tell the difference between a native and a Spanish bluebell – The Wildlife Trusts

6 things you might not know about bluebells – National Trust

Visiting woods and wild places

The Wildlife Trust manage and look after 2,300 nature reserves around the UK, including some important woodlands.

The National Trust have some woodlands too, including ancient woodland, often as part of a larger property or estates.

In Worcestershire and the surrounding areas we have some fantastic woodlands, including some ancient woodlands. Clent Hills and Uffmoor Wood in North Worcestershire are favourites.

Uffmoor Wood (ancient woodland) Woodland Trust
Uffmoor Wood (ancient woodland) Woodland Trust

Nature Projects

We have been collecting tree bark, cones and branches to use in our bug hotel project.

Bug hotel filled with cones and tree bark
Bug hotel filled with cones and tree bark and branches and moss