Now the colder weather is upon us, and December is approaching, it's time to start thinking about Christmas!
I'd love to hear what eco friendly Christmas decorations you make with your children - there's nothing quite like bringing the outdoors indoors at Christmas, and it would be lovely to share some crafty tips.
Even tying up some simple holly (safely out of reach from little fingers of course) can make such a difference and bring some real festive cheer into your home.
Perhaps you make your own Christmas paper, recycle your cards into gift tags, or make your decorations from popcorn or pinecones.
Why not upload some photos onto our forum, so we can see what you have been making?
We'd love to hear what you are planning for your Big Schools' Birdwatch in January.
The event is fast approaching now, and we're sending lots of packs out to schools who have registered. If you haven't registered yet, you can do so here.
Maybe your class is going to build a bird hide, or perhaps you'll start feeding your birds early to ensure you have plenty of visitors on the day of your birdwatch. Perhaps you've developed a bird quiz, or you're going to extend the project by getting creative and producing a large scale bird collage with your students.
Whatever you're planning, however big or small, we'd love to hear about it on our Big Schools' Birdwatch forum.
Should all children be given the right to access – and enjoy – the countryside? Here is an interesting short article suggesting just that, as well as talking about the many benefits we all know this brings.
However, while I am convinced that all children should have regular contact with nature, I am not sure that simply making this a right will ensure that it actually happens...
What do you think, and what else will help the next generation stay connected to the natural environment?
And if you are looking for ideas for discovering nature close to home – and how it is preparing for winter – why not join in our latest Wildsquare survey?
Have you planned any tree-planting for National Tree Week which runs from 26 November to 4 December? If you have planned something, tell us about it! We'd love to hear about what you'll be doing! If you haven't thought about it, then I urge you to think about how you could get involved at school, or in your local community. You don't have to plant a forest! Just planting a single tree can give your local wildlife a tree-mendous boost that should last even longer than a liftetime!
National Tree Week is the UK's largest annual tree celebration. Each year, this special week launches the start of the winter tree-planting season, and around 250,000 people get involved in local events across the country to plant trees together, in local parks, schools and public spaces. Why not get a group of children together and join in too? A tree-planting event can be a lot of fun, and very satisfying too! Just imagine the sense of satisfation for a child who plants a tree, watches it blossom and grow over several years, watches wildlife move in and use it, knowing that they were responsible for making a difference for that little patch of their local environment! Something to tell (or even show) the grandchildren! (And, if another reason was needed, as an extra bonus, children can gain recognition for planting trees as part of RSPB's Wildlife Action Awards)
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you why growing more trees can be so beneficial. But here's something incredible to contemplate: Did you know that a single mature oak tree can host up to 500 different species of wildlife?! 500 species, now that's a lot! So, if you want to increase the biodiversity in your school grounds, garden or local park, you could do a lot worse than planting a tree or two! And trees aren't just great for wildlife. I don't know about you, but I love watching the trees change through the seasons, and enjoying the fruits they produce! Trees can also be great tools to learn about the seasons, living things, scientific processes, reproduction,.... and we must not forget the obligatory leaf and bark rubbings which are a must for every child!!
But before you can do leaf rubbings, you need a tree! But what sort of tree? Once you have the landowners permission to plant a tree or two, you need to think about what sort of tree is suitable for your chosen site. This is where you need to think ahead 10, or even 20 or 30 years in the future - what will it look like then? Here are some top tips about the best trees to plant for attracting wildlife, and we've included one or two pointers about size and suitability...Remember, it's always best to plant native trees if possible as most of them will provide insects in the breeding season, as well as seeds in the winter, which will help a variety of birds and small mammals.
A is for.... Alder
Alders like wet or damp conditions, so in the wild, you tend to find them close to river banks. They are ideal if you have an area that gets wet and muddy. However, they can grow to around 25 metres in height, so make sure you leave plenty of room if you decide to plant an Alder or two! The seeds look like mini fir cones and are a favourite of colourful birds such as siskins, goldfinches and redpolls in the winter.
Not to be confused with....Elder
Although strictly a shrub, Elders are often included in tree or hedgerow packs which you can send for (see the Woodland Trust website), and they are one of my favourites, so they must get a mention! Not as large as Alder's, they grow up to around 10 metres and produce very fragrant clusters of cream flowers in the summertime which bees and butterflies love. If you fancy planting 'edible' trees, Elders are a great one to plant as it's very easy to make elderflower cordial from the flower heads, but be sure to leave plenty of flowers on the shrub for the insects and for the berries to form in the autumn (you can use these in jam too, but make sure you pick out any unripe green berries).
Other 'edible' trees include Crab Apple and Cherry
Great for hedgerows, or if you fancy an orchard in your schoolgrounds, their fruits are sought after by both birds and humans, so remember to share the harvest! These trees are generally more compact and have beautiful blossom in the spring which insects make a 'bee-line' for! Just check before you plant Cherry trees close to buildings, as some varieties can grow up to 25 metres in height! A range of otherwise insect-eating birds will turn to fruits and seeds in the winter to supplement their diet, including blackbirds, thrushes, and starlings.
Talking of big trees, use some caution if you wish to plant oaks or beeches... although they are slow growing, they grow into big trees and are only suitable for large school grounds. Great for a 'feature' piece though, and oaks in particular will support a rich variety and quantity of insects. Acorns are eaten by squirrels, woodpigeons, jays, great spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches.
Waxwings will have a feast on Rowan berries!
These beautiful birds, just a bit smaller than a starling, migrate into the UK in the winter from Scandinavia and Siberia. They are often seen in supermarket car parks, not because they like to do a bit of shopping, but because Rowan (or Mountain Ash) trees are often planted around supermarket car parks! The bright red-orange coloured berries are loved by other birds such as Thrushes too. These trees grow up to about 15 metres in height, so are a good size for a medium-sized school grounds. Don't put them in amongst 'edible' trees though, as the raw berries are not edible by humans!
Well, those are just a few ideas for tree varieties which are great for wildlife, though there's many, many more. How about adding some hawthorn, holly, willow, buddleia or dog rose? They too are all beneficial for wildlife. If you want to know more about how to go about planting the trees, or want to register an event, see more on the Tree Council's website. If you're interested to find out what other things are good to plant for wildlife in your school grounds, and how to improve your school grounds for birds, why not order a copy of our 'Discover Birds at School' booklet? This 40-page booklet is free and is packed full of useful information not only about plants and trees, but also what food to put out for birds, how to make nestboxes and how to identify birds. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org for your copy.
You've probably picked up by now that variety is the key to attracting a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. The more varied you can make your school grounds, your garden, or your local green space, the more attractive they will be to wildlife. Why not step up for nature and give wildlife a tree-mendous boost this winter and plant a few trees? Let us know about it on our Stepping up for Nature page. We'd love to hear about what you have decided to plant and why! If you've done it before, why not share your tips in reply to this blog, or if you're taking part in any tree-planting events, share your stories and photos here too.
Enjoy your tree planting, and if you don't have time to organise a tree planting in time for National Tree Week, you can still plant trees right up until April, so you've still got plenty of time to source your trees and get a date in the diary!
If you think that sometimes the youth of today need a bit of inspiration to persevere when something becomes a little harder for them to achieve, especially in todays culture where instant results are expected, then show them this clip for a bit of motivation.
It just goes to show that everything comes eventually with a bit of hard work, and a little help from those around them that care.
Isn't nature amazing?