It’s taken me 34 years on planet earth to experience the thrill of flying a kite. I know I know, what on earth was I doing as a child! Sadly, it seems I lived an unfulfilled, kiteless childhood…
Earlier in the year my kitelessness ended when the family and I attended a local kite festival. Apart from it being an awesome spectacle with giant octopus, sharks and cherubs adorning the skies – a spectacle so good it kept my kids away from the illuminating swords and ice cream sellers for a record breaking half an hour! – we got to make our own kites. With just a couple of pounds and the assistance of some friendly folk on the stand, the children had their very own kites and it was time to give them a go…
Disappointingly, the kites were great and the kids loved them. Yes, I did say ‘disappointingly’ and the reason being that the kids required no help from me, they were happy with just themselves and their new toys and I didn’t get a look in! Even my three year old told me to “Get off Daddy. Go away!” – charming. But seriously, what joy from a piece of plastic, a couple of sticks, tape and string. And never fear, leave the kids long enough and it’s inevitable that they’ll get tangled-up, giving you the perfect excuse to assist and show them how it’s done!
From warfare to space exploration
If my crude desk research doesn’t let me down, kites have been around some 2,000 years and have been used for everything from warfare, fishing, space exploration and of course the ever popular recreational use. So from humble Chinese origins – some believe a farmer who tied his hat to himself with a piece of string to stop it blowing away ‘invented’ the first kite – kites have endured and remain a brilliant way to get outdoors, get active and have fun.
Let’s go fly a kite
The pull (pardon the pun!) of kites is strong; so much so that although the kids got their ice cream in the end, we did arrive home without adding to our lounge’s stockpile of illuminating swords! If I could sing like Mary Poppins I would; sadly I can’t but I urge you with no less gusto to go out and fly a kite. Kids love it, adults love it and what better way to spend a warm, breezy summer day outdoors?
If you don’t have one, the RSPB Shop sells a very cool flying red kite kite(!) which will go down well with young and old alike. Happy flying!
On 8 February about 1.3 billion people will be celebrating Chinese New Year. Half of my own family are Chinese so to honour this festival and the oriental penchant for making tasty food using any ingredients available, I've made up a stir-fry dish using nettles. Hopefully my grandma aka Popo would approve!
This recipe might sound like an acquired taste but, the flavour of nettles is so mild, little ones who are fond of stir-fry as a rule will enjoy this too.
The unusually mild December has meant there are tasty young nettle leaves growing everywhere (or there were when I wrote this).
I've only ever eaten nettles as part of a well blended soup so I wasn't sure this would work, but it turned out nicely.
Collecting and preparing
Even young nettles sting so use gloves or a sturdy plastic bag to pick them. But do only pick the smaller young ones, older leaves aren't as tasty.
Strip the leaves from the big stems, you can leave the very young stems in. Submerge them in a big bowl of water.
Wash thoroughly and drain using a sieve.
You can then use these like you would with any other green veg eg spinach. Please note that they will shrink to almost nothing but the nutrients are still there.
I used an onion, a sweet pepper, a clove of garlic, chili (optional) and some ginger as the base for this stir-fry. The noodles here are udon, which are Japanese, but they taste good and that's all that matters.
Fry these ingredients - except the nettles and noodles - on a high heat. You can leave the chili to the last minute so it doesn't make you cough. Boil and drain your noodles while that's happening.
For protein you can add eggs or whatever takes your fancy, I went for fish.
Add some soy sauce or oyster sauce (I added a splash of shaoxing rice wine but it's not essential).
Now mix your nettles in. When they've wilted add your noodles.
Mix well and turn the heat off, add a few drops of sesame oil to stop stuff sticking together and because it smells great.
Here's the finished thing (shot in the style of a 1980s Chinese take-away menu):
I probably overpowered the nettles a little bit with all these flavours, but it tasted pretty good.
The texture of whole nettles is a little unnerving when you first start eating them, you're half waiting for a sting, but I promise it won't happen as long as they're cooked.
Going for a nice walk to collect healthy food from nature. What could be more in keeping with New Year's fitness resolutions than that?
Winter seems to have come a bit late, but now it's here it's providing some spectacular crisp morning sunrises. Here's a picture of one I took by the side of the road on the way to work:
The lack of leaves may make things a bit stark, but it makes it much easier to see any birds still around.
There are amazing flocks of starlings to be seen around the country. Here are a few spots where you can still catch them if you're quick:
Kung hei fat choy!
Our outreach officer in Leeds is going to be visiting lots of parks August. If you're near by on one of these days, please do drop in and say hello:
Middleton Park bandstand - 8 August 11.00-15.30
Pudsey park - 10 August 11.00-15.30
Roundhay - 11 August 12.00-17.00
Middleton Park - 15 August 11.00-15.30, 29 August 11.00-15.30
Pudsey park - 16 August 11.00-15.30
Cross Flatts - 18 August 12.00-17.00
Rodley nature reserve - 20 August 11.00-15.00
Temple Newsham - 28 August 10.30-15.00
If you need to find us, keep an eye out for the RSPB flags.
To find out more about the overall project we're running with Aldi in 15 cities across Britain please visit rspb.org.uk/wildparks
Or see our full list of events to date.