August, 2015

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Families blog

Here are some ideas and guidance to help your family make the most of the UK's fantastic wildlife
  • Wild food - Summer fruit leather

    Through the month of September delicious summer fruits ripen on our hedges and in our wider countryside.

    What fruit is out there?

    Brambles, normally considered an annoyance, try to win our affections with bountiful quantities of tasty black fruit. If you’re lucky you might even lay your hands on its more genteel cousin: the raspberry.

    In more northern climes the bilberry can be found in abundance. Collecting these smaller European versions of blueberries was a family pastime for me as a kid at Beacon Fell near Blackpool. Heat them up on the hob with some sugar and they make great pancake toppings.  

    Towards the end of summer, members of the plum family start to ripen. Damsons are delicious straight off the tree and their smaller relative bullaces, usually considered only good for cooking, can be sweet enough raw if very ripe.   

    What to do with it

    Please be sure to leave some fruit behind on each bush, as it’s food for other animals. Ensure you pick from places where the fruit is likely to be clean (i.e. not next to a road and above the level a dog might be able to wee!), and washing fruit before eating is generally good practice. 

    With all of this summer fruit arriving at once it can be hard to know what to do with it, but I’ve come across a quirky, tasty way of preserving your pickings.

    Fruit leather might not sound appetising, but it’s really fun to eat because you can just tear tasty little strips off. Just think of it as fruit jerky.

    Above are just some of the fruits you can find, but apples, strawberries and wild cherries  - in fact, pretty much any fruit  - can also be used in this recipe.

    Fruit leather by Fruchtleder Zwetschge Flickr CC

    Fruit leather by Hedonistin Flickr CC

    This recipe is based on one I borrowed from Simply Recipes, I can confirm that the results are highly palatable!  

    Ingredients 

    A decent amount of fruit at - least 800g.

    Sugar 

    Lemon juice

    Cinnamon or allspice (if you want to be fancy)

    Few drops of veg oil/sunflower oil

    Method

    1. Wash your fruit. If it has stones or large pips remove them. Cut the cores out if you’re using apples or pears. Chop the fruit if using anything bigger than a blackberry.  
    2. Put the fruit in a pan and add one part water to every four parts fruit.
    3. Bring to a simmer, cover it with a lid and cook on a lowish heat for 10-15 mins, or until the fruit is cooked through.
    4. Uncover, stir and mash with a potato masher. Taste the mix to see how sweet it is, add some sugar if needed, fully dissolving 1tbsp at a time. Add a tbsp of lemon juice to bring out more of the fruity flavour. You can add some spices like cinnamon at this point if you like (just a pinch).
    5. Cook on a low heat for 5-10 mins or until the mix has thickened. 
    6. Take off the heat and puree the mix using a hand blender until very smooth. Give it a final taste and add more sugar or lemon juice if needed.
    7. Strain the mix through a sieve in batches into another pan, you may need to push it through with a spoon. 
    8. Line a baking sheet (at least 1/2cm deep) with greaseproof paper, and rub a very small amount of oil on the paper, just enough to coat it. Pour the mix in so it’s about half a centimetre thick.
    9. Heat the oven to a very low temperature (50c). Put the tray in and leave for 8-12 hours (overnight) until the fruit leather lives up to its name. It should be dry to the touch.  

    You can then peel and eat it, chop it into shapes or roll it up (on the paper). Store in an airtight container. 

    Fruit in nature

    Summer fruit represents the start of the harvest season for humans where we'd traditionally stock up on supplies for the darkening days to come. It's no different for wildlife. This glut of fruit and seeds is when many birds and small mammals stock up.

    Field mouse on blackberries by Siddie Nam Flickr CC

    Field mouse on blackberries by Siddie Nam Flickr CC

    Some berries stick around long into the winter eg rowan, hawthorn (these aren't suitable for humans). Birds like redwing and thrushes get much of their food from berries during the winter when the ground is too hard to forage for worms.

    You can help the birds in your garden by planting one of these trees, and if it's packed full berries you're not so fussed about like rowan or rosehips, you won't get jealous when they're gobbled by winged visitors. 

  • A properly big wild Sleepout!

    It was wonderful to see what people got up to on social media the weekend of 7-9 August in their gardens and on reserves. 

    Some explorers went feral at the Big Wild Sleepout event at RSPB Loch Leven 

    Around 24,000 families signed-up for our Explorer Pack to get some inspiration for the big weekend, and many reserves across the UK put on fantastic events.

    Here are just a few blogs written by some of our dedicated staff:

    Matthew Capper, Site Manager at Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire, shares an evening that confirmed his suspicion that he has best job in the world: 

    "I'm so excited I'm shaking"

    Helen Gottschalk, Visitor Experience Manager at Newport Wetlands in South Wales, gives us some of the wildlife highlights from their Big Wild Sleepout event:

    Wow! What a night

    Down in Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex, Visitor Experience Manager Anna Allum and some intrepid visitors captured some great images of wildlife onsite:

    A night in nature's home

    Julian Hughes, Site Manager at Conwy in North Wales, shares some great moments from their Sleepout, as well as a spot of poetry:

    Big Wild Sleepout at Conwy

    The prize for the most unusual Sleepout this year goes to the 100 people who spent the night on Flat Holm, a little island in the middle of the Severn Estuary:

    Sleeping under the stars on Flat Holm Island

    Kate Struthers, Visitor Experience Manager, regales us with tales of charcoal beards and bees nest's uncovered by badgers at Fairburn Ings in West Yorkshire:

    Big Wild Sleepout at Fairburn Ings

    In Greater London, Visitor Experience Officer Howard Vaughan shows that even this close to the UK's biggest city there is nocturnal wildlife aplenty:

    Sleep? I don't remember that part

    Our colleagues in Northern Ireland put on some smashing events, with locations varying from the Space Centre to spending the night at Ulster Transport Museum:

    Big Wild Sleepout Northern Ireland style

    There were lots more activities going on across the country, but hopefully this has given you a flavour of what the Sleepout is all about - and maybe some inspiration for one of your own.

    There's no reason you can't embark on your own sleepout anytime, experiencing the changing seasons in this unique way; just make sure you wrap up warm if the weather's getting cold!  

    For me, that really is the best thing about nature, you can never have the exact same experience twice, it's always different, always changing.

    Happy exploring!