This last week has been a busy one so I have not been out and about with my camera much. I had a look back at my pictures from over a week ago and noticed on my Facebook page a comment on this intimate moment atop a Hogweed plant.
The insects are Red Soldier Beetles and they are having a ‘Special Cuddle’ as my wife mentioned to her friend Brian 🙂
It is so easy to pass on by scenes like this – see how many ‘Special Cuddles’ you can spot in nature tomorrow 🙂
The cadets and staff were from a number of different units in the London and Southern areas. We set up camp initially at the Tavistock Camping and Caravanning site just outside of Tavistock. This is a well catered-for site located on the edges of the Dartmoor National Park – I even managed to set up my hammock here (always a bonus on Dartmoor, where the trees are few and far between).
Time was spent planning and preparing for the first day out on the moor before setting off on an intensive training session the next day.
Joining us were a number of trainee Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL) so there was plenty of adult cover. We had three teams on this expedition, two undertaking their Gold award and one their Silver.
At least one fully qualified and one trainee BEL instructor were assigned to each team on this first day. The teams spent the day learning the art of navigation and group management around the heights of Cox Tor, Barn Hill, Great Staple Tor and Great Mis Tor to the East of Tavistock.
I spent my time wandering the moor keeping an eye on the different teams and meeting up with them from time to time.
Even though the cadets and staff were only on their training expedition they were expected to navigate the moor without having a trained instructor present. At this stage in their development our job as DofE Leaders and trainers is to step back and keep a close eye on them through ‘Remote Supervision’ – which basically means to keep a good eye on them from afar and meet them from time to time at pre-arranged check points.
Below you can see the three teams with some of the instructors who were keeping a close eye on them. The bottom two teams were training for Gold and the top team for Silver.
They had full packs for the next few nights and were soon off and away. The observers keeping an eye on them were Lee, Dave, Jess, Carol and Donna.
While the teams were on the Moor with their observing staff I helped de-camp and move the staff tents to a new campsite in Princetown.
We camped at the site behind the Plume of Feathers pub (thankfully again there was a spot to set up my hammock.
We met the teams as they came through Princetown and they all seemed in good spirits. It was a hot day and we made sure there was plenty of water available at checkpoints. Their final campsite was in amongst a herd of cows – I think it was quite a new experience for some of them.
The teams and observational staff (Alan, Carol, Lee, Dave and Jess) were off early so I went for a wander up onto Holne Ridge with fellow instructors John, Sarah and Donna. Both Sarah and Donna are hoping to become qualified BEL instructors so we spent a lot of time doing map and compass work.
Along the way I introduced them to the delights of cleaning their hands in sphagnum moss and Donna even managed to find a whole bog full of the stuff to herself – she dried off soon enough :-).
Once onto the high moors we joined up with some of the other staff and kept an eye on the teams moving across the moors.
As the day was clear the trainee BEL candidates could really get to grips with their mapwork and Dave got the cracking ‘selfie’ below of us all sitting and observing at our meet up point.
Everyone was tired at the end of day 2 (cadets and staff alike) and after preparing their routes for the next day they got their food on the go and had a well earned rest that evening. Chris made sure that the team leaders had their route planned out well so they could brief their team members.
I went with a number of staff to the end point at Scorriton and headed off with Jess. Carol and Donna up onto the Moor to meet the observers. The observers, Dave and Chris, had good visibility so were able to keep me informed by radio of the teams’ locations all the time.
As there was no need for everyone to climb up onto the moors I left Jess, Carol and Donna by a stream crossing that the teams would have to pass and set off up Pupers Hill to meet the teams.
Soon everyone was down off the moor and relaxing by the stream where I got some great shots of everyone. After a good rest we headed off but could not resist a quick climb into this magnificent tree (well, Dave and Jess couldn’t resist it). Based on the amount of moss and lichens on the tree you can begin to appreciate just how wet this area can be.
This was a hard week with misty mornings and hot afternoons. Everyone worked well and really developed themselves so that their assessment expedition in October will be a success.
We did though as you can see below have some laughs along the way. Adventuring is hard work – but it should also be fun.
I am looking forward to working with everyone again in October when we will be running the assessed expedition on the Brecon Beacons.
For the last three months I have been out on regular bimbles with my son Finlay to observe and learn about nature for his Naturalist badge at Cubs.
This is not an easy badge to obtain and takes three months to complete with a number of different standards to meet (some of the standards have different options to choose from).
The standards/options Finlay chose to do were:
Observe a natural area over a three month period a number of times to observe and record changes in nature
Learn to identify six trees and six wild flowers
Learn the Country Code
Build a Bug Hotel
Rather than just observe one natural area we spotted three good areas around the village to observe. We visited each area five times over three months to observe the changes occurring in nature.
Area 1 – Scrubland
This site was next to one of his playgrounds and initially seemed very promising (in the hope we would see a variety of different spring flowers) with all the Dandelion seed heads. They were still there on our second visit however the thick grass seemed to be inhibiting the growth of many of the spring flowers we were hoping to see.
Over the following visits we spotted a few White Campion flowers and some Green Alkanet however it was the grasses, Docks and Cleavers (Sticky Willy) that seemed to dominate in the end. Finlay seemed happy with that as I usually found loads of Cleaver strands stuck to my back when we got home 🙂
Area 2 – The Pond
I have been observing a particular pond in our village over the years and knew it would be good for Finlay to observe changes in nature.
The pond is full Reedmace (aka Cattail), Iris, and ringed by Marsh Marigolds and Mare’s Tail. Initially all the growth was very subdued however you can see in the second picture below (2nd visit) that there was far more shade as the plants had started to grow. Finlay is in the same spot in each picture to observe and act as a measure to the growth.
There is always something happening at the pond with wildlife. Usually we disturbed a duck or two but we did spot plenty of frogs and insects. One visit we found a dead pidgeon by the side of the pond and noticed that the Iris had started to produce its seed heads near the end of our visits.
Over the last 3 visits the Iris and the Reedmace soon came to dominate the pond and the outer ring of Marsh Marigolds generally died back.
Area 3 – The Stream
We have a culvert near our house and there is a good patch of Reedmace growing beside it. This spot I thought ideal to show Finlay how quickly this plant grows.
Initially it was the last years growth that dominated the stream with a lot of Hedge Garlic growing beside it. Over the subsequent visits the spring flowers all died off and the Reedmace shot up.
The growth you can see below happened over a two and a half month period.
On our last visit we spotted that the pollen spikes of the Reedmace had appeared. These are a great plant for any bushcrafter as the young spikes can be boiled and eaten, the roots are edible as well as the young plant shoots.
As this plant grows frequently beside (as seen by the pond) its lookalike poisonous neighbour – Iris, learn to 100% identify both plants before attempting to forage Reedmace.
Trees and Flowers
Over the last three months we studied our trees and wildflower as well as Finlay had to learn to identify six trees and six wildflowers.
For trees we focused on Oak, Hawthorn, Sycamore, Beech, Holly and Hazel. We started this on our first forage way back in in May when we went out on our first foraging hike together – Foraging with Finlay. He is pretty confident with most of the trees now however he still has to think about some of them. We remember them by shapes i.e. the star for Sycamore, ear lobes for Oak, spikes for Holly etc.
Some of the flowers we saw regularly included White Campion, Forget-me-nots and Herb Robert. I think he struggles with White Campion as that one disappeared early but then again not many people can easily identify it.
One he does remember easily is Green Alkannet (something to do with the blue flower and it having the word ‘Green’ in its title I think), Self Heal and Wild Strawberries. The white flowers of Strawberries he remembered well, in anticipation of the feast we had on the last visit.
It was not all learn, learn, learn as we had lots of fun along the way. Sometimes his sister Catherine joined us, there was lots of time spent in the parks , some beautiful insects were spotted and best of all we got muddy and spent quality time together.
The Countryside Code
We spent time talking about how we treat the countryside while out and about. When I was a young lad we all had to be able to recite the country code however that list has now fallen out of favour now. The main aims now are to ‘Respect, Protect and Enjoy’ the countryside. Our trips would touch on these aims and a good pamphlet on the current code can be found here at the Peak District website.
The Bug Hotel
The last standard for the badge was to build something for nature. We opted for a Bug hotel in the garden. Finlay, Catherine and one of his friends (another Finlay) spent a long time collecting and building their Bug hotel. I wrote a separate post on this titled – Building the Bug Hotel.
It has been great fun working on this project with Finlay. He really deserves his Naturalist badge now and I look forward to working on some of these more challenging badges with him in the future. One day he will no longer need me to help him but in the meantime I intend to get out and about with him as much as possible.
As I was observing the cadets from afar I had plenty of time to look for the little details that make up nature. I found that detail with this scene where a fly had been trapped in the sticky glandular tentacles of a Sundew plant.
The fly had not been caught long as it was still struggling. Within about 15 minutes of being trapped they normally expire with exhaustion and are slowly dissolved by the Sundews enzymes. You can find out a lot more about this beautiful little plant at carnivorous–plants.com
I come across hundreds of Sundews at this time of year alongside the upland streams however it is not often I spot one having a snack.
My local church St James here in Bramley held a wonderful flower festival last week. Each display linked to a particular hymn and the one that really caught my eye was the display for the armed forces.
The armed forces display was split into three parts. There was a separate display for the Army, Navy and RAF and the hymn they all related to was Eternal Father however it was the RAF display set against the Brocas Aisle window that really caught my attention.
As an old soldier and a serving member of the cadet forces I was particularly pleased to see my church remembering Armed Forces week in this beautiful way.