Acts of wilderness for families
Conservationist Lucy McRobert suggests outdoor activities that will help families connect with wildlife and give their wellbeing a boost too.
Studies show spending time outdoors and enjoying nature and the wild has wide-ranging health and wellbeing benefits for both children and adults - from reducing the risk of serious diseases and stress, to improving sleep and happiness.
Lucy McRobert, who manages The Wildlife Trusts' annual 30 Days Wild campaign, where people pledge to explore nature on their doorstep every day during June, is urging families to get outside together and connect with nature.
McRobert, who has just written the book 365 Days Wild (William Collins, €16.99, available now), explains: "Just like getting your five-a-day and exercising regularly are important for your health, so is spending time in nature. Wildlife and wild places are all around us waiting to be explored, so pack up a picnic and head outside with the whole family. "
The new book expands on the 30 Days Wild initiative, encouraging families to carry out even more Random Acts of Wildness - where they experience, learn about or even help nature.
McRobert points out that connecting with nature has the biggest impact on the young, but less than one in 10 children regularly spend time in nature. She adds: "Make it your mission to get outside as a family, discover wildlife on your doorstep and go on a wild adventure!"
Here are her 7 suggestions for family Random Acts of Wildness:
1. Race to find a rainbow
To race to find a rainbow, you simply need to find all seven colours of the rainbow in a given area - a local park, nature reserve or garden is perfect. Reds could be ladybirds or butterflies; yellows could be
dandelions; greens could be grass and leaves; and damselflies or blue tits are perfect for your blue colours. You can be a bit creative and stretch your colour palette (including pink instead of indigo and violet). Get everyone to take photos of the colours they find and compare them when the race is over. Your winner could be the team that finds the colours fastest, or that has the closest colour matches..
2. Hear a buzzard mew
On sunny days over green spaces, keep your eyes to the skies and search for a majestic buzzard circling slowly. Buzzards are big birds of prey, with a wingspan of around 1.2m. They drift upwards on warm days, and when flying closer to the ground, they have powerful, slow wing beats. Before you notice them, you might hear a cry, which sounds like the mew of a cat, only much louder. They repeat this call as they fly higher, like a foghorn.
3. Do a two-minute beach clean
This simple forage for litter might just save a life at sea, which is hugely polluted with plastic and other rubbish, causing havoc to the creatures that live there. Share your beach clean on social media using #2minutebeachclean - there's an organisation that monitors beach cleans all over the world.
4. Create a hedgehog highway
In one night, a hedgehog can move around 2km, with a home range of 10-20 hectares, constantly foraging for food like worms and beetles. A hedgehog living on a housing estate needs to range over the whole estate for food, but every garden is surrounded by fences and walls. Team up with neighbours to cut small holes in the bottom of fences - they just need to be 13cm x 13cm, and not high off the ground. A hedgehog will find those holes and make his way through. If you can do this across your neighbourhood, it's much safer for the hedgehogs. If you can't cut a hole, dig a small channel underneath.
5. Tread carefully around toads
Common toads, like frogs, mate and lay eggs in the early spring. Around this time, you're most likely to see and hear them croaking about near ponds, or find toad spawn in ditches, ponds and shallow lakes. After this, the adults will disperse across dry land, looking for cool, moist places to hang out. Over the next few months, the eggs hatch into tadpoles, which transform into toadlets. In summer, toadlets will leave their homes en masse. If you find the spawn in spring, check a few months later to see if you can watch this in action. You'll have to tread carefully - the toadlets are tiny and there will be hundreds.
6. Follow a bumblebee
Around March, the queen bee will build her intricate home and lay her first brood. These are the worker bees, and once they've developed into adults (in early summer) they'll help tend the nest and collect pollen, to feed the next brood. In late summer, the second brood - mostly new queen bees and males - will emerge, disappearing from the nest to reproduce. Watch as they buzz between bushes, flowers and trees, and see if you can keep up. Map which flowers are their favourites, and how far they travel around the garden. Some will have bright yellow or orange sacs on their hind legs, carrying the pollen. Don't worry about being stung: keep your distance and don't disturb them.
7. BioBlitz your garden
A BioBlitz is when someone intensively surveys an area over a short time to see how many species live there. If it's your first one, limit your hunting to an hour and extend it in future. You don't need to be an expert, but use a pad and pen to record what you see; binoculars to zoom in on wildlife; and a camera to snap photos. Scour all the area - for insects, amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles (you can include plants too). If you can't identify something, take a photo - friends and social media followers might be able to help. You're trying to find as many species as possible, so look in unexpected places, like log piles, under bricks, and in dark corners.