Archives for posts with tag: Nature

At last! We can all go for longer walks and even meet a friend with whom to share the beautiful spring weather. Now that we are allowed to drive further to go for walks, there will be many of us who have been shut up in towns and cities who are desperate to visit the countryside. Most people in this country now live in urban settings, so even before the coronavirus kept us in our homes, a trip to the countryside was a treat rather than a normal part of daily life. This means that a lot of us don’t perhaps know that there are some helpful things we can do while we are walking to make sure that we don’t make life difficult for farmers and the animals and crops that they are taking care of.

When I was at school (a long time ago…) more people lived in or near the open countryside, so as well as learning about how to be safe in the town, we also learnt something called The Countryside Code. When I was researching things to put in the next Nature Month-by-Month book for 2021, I was surprised to find that this code still exists in exactly the same way that it did fifty years ago. When I mentioned it to my children, I discovered that they had not heard of it, so I thought it would be a good idea to put it in my next book. So here is a sneak peek of that page which will appear in next year’s book:

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I hope that you do manage to get out into the countryside this week and that you enjoy birdwatching and looking at all the beautiful wildflowers and the new leaves on the trees. If you do, remember to follow the simple code above as it will make your walk more enjoyable and you’ll be helping the wildlife and farmers too.

Stay safe and keep well.

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Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

 

When I went out into the garden with my dog this morning, I saw two goldfinches on the grass! I very rarely see them so close up, so I stopped and made the dog sit quietly so that I could watch them.

It’s a good time of year to spot goldfinches, because they love the seeds that are around right now. They particularly love dandelions.

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Thinking of the goldfinches’ favourite food got me thinking about the sort of plants people call “weeds”. I am actually a big fan of weeds! My grandmother always used to say that “A weed is simply the name for a plant in the wrong place.” In other words, a plant is only a weed if you are a gardener who prefers a tidy garden – and I am certainly not that! My favourite places are wild patches of land where “weeds” come and go, depending on the season. And it seems that the birds agree.

Not only the birds, in fact. I read last week of a woman called Sophie Leguil who is going around London chalking the names of weeds on to the pavement next to where they are sprouting! She is taking photos of them and putting them on Instagram, too. Her idea is to teach people to look more closely at pavements, walls and building sites to appreciate the little bursts of beauty that Nature offers us in the most unexpected places. You can follow her at @more_than_weeds. Here is one of her recent posts:

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Wherever you go today on your walk, I hope that you spot something beautiful like a goldfinch or an unexpected “weed” to lift your spirits – a little flash of gold in the gloom.

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Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

Today is May Day – or Beltane. Both are festivals which celebrate the fact that summer is around the corner and the darkness of winter is finally past. We are now at the halfway mark between the spring and summer solstice: the evenings are longer and lighter and we are no longer waking up in the dark – so lots to be thankful for.

It might seem odd to be thinking of festivals during lockdown, but festivals are a good way of marking changes in the seasons. They give us pause to stop and take stock of where we are in our lives. It can be helpful to look outside, go for a walk and take time to notice how the trees and flowers are blooming, especially if you’ve been feeling low. 

Where I live, the bluebells are an intense blue now, the red campion has gone crazy and there are ox-eye daisies sprouting on the cliffs in places where you would not think a flower would be able to grow. I walked this way in the winter and had to hunch my shoulders against the howling wind and roaring sea and driving rain. It was a bleak and unforgiving place in winter. Today, it is warm and gentle and everything seems to be smiling down on me. I sat on the cliff this morning to write in my diary and thought how impossible that would have been in winter.

So, however bleak and unforgiving lockdown may be feeling for you right now (and believe me, it has done for me at times) try to take hope and comfort from the way Nature is celebrating the light and warmth. Nothing ever stays the same – there is always hope and new life around the corner. Nature knows this, and she’d like to show us if only we’d take a moment to stop, look and listen. Why not try doing that, this May Day?

 

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Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

 

Today, 22nd April, is Earth Day. This is a day to focus on what we can do to help the environment and protect our planet.

The first Earth Day was in 1970 – fifty years ago! It was set up by an American politician called Senator Gaylord Nelson because he thought it was important for children to be taught about the environment in schools. On this day (in “normal life” when schools are open and we don’t have to observe social distancing…) many schools get involved in local clean-ups in their streets, parks and along their rivers and coasts.

 

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Here are some things you could do to celebrate Earth Day:

1 Walk or cycle to get your daily exercise.

3 Turn off lights when you leave the room.

4 Turn off electrical appliances such as the TV, kettle and computer at the wall when you are not using them.

5 Try not to use a computer or the TV at all for just one day! (Difficult at the moment, perhaps, but what else could you find to do – it’s only one day…)

6 Take time to look at the trees, plants, birds and insects – you could do this from your window or doorstep. Make notes or drawings of what you see.

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7 Ask your parents if you can swap from chemical cleaning products to more environmentally friendly options. Did you know that you can do a lot of cleaning using natural things such as vinegar water and lemon juice?

8 Remember to take a cloth bag or a ‘bag for life’ when you go shopping to avoid using a plastic bag.

9 Did you know that meat production uses much more energy than plants? Try eating vegetarian food for one day. There are lots of delicious recipes to try – some are on this blog!

10 Take a refillable drink bottle out with you instead of buying water or juice in plastic bottles.

 

My sister and I used to love making ‘petal potions’ when we were younger. It was the kind of activity my grandmother encouraged because it involved a little time outside looking closely at plants and then a lot of fun and mess in the kitchen afterwards which kept us out of mischief inside while my grandmother got on with her sewing.

It’s the kind of activity you can do even on a rainy day in spring, as you don’t need to be outside for long to gather what you need. A quick race out into the garden, and you can easily gather enough petals, leaves and small flowers. Remember to ask first in case your parent or carer doesn’t like the idea of you picking flowers. It’s easiest and safest to go for things like daisies, buttercups, dandelions and other wildflowers that are around at this time of year such as the ones I mentioned in my last post. You can add grass to your potions too.

Here are some of the flowers in my garden right now. They are, from left to right: magnolia, primrose and camellia. As long as you are careful and don’t pick too many, you could add any of these into a potion. You would only need one or two of each flower and a few leaves to make three or four potions.

Once you have chosen your flowers, leaves, herbs, grasses and so on, bring everything you have gathered indoors and lay it out on a table or work surface. Then ask for some empty jam jars. If you haven’t got any then you can use drinking glasses. (It’s best to use something see-through so that you can get the best effect from your potion.)

Half-fill the jars with tap water, then put your petals and so on into the water and give everything a gentle stir.

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Abracadabra! You’ve made a potion!

The sweetest-smelling potions are made from flowers like roses or from herbs with a strong scent such as mint or rosemary. But you might be going for colour rather than perfume, so choose what you like. It’s up to you!

If you don’t have a garden, ask if you can take a few petals or herbs from any pots you might have on the windowsill or patio.

And if you don’t have any pots at home, you can make weird and wonderful potions with other things that you might be able to find in the kitchen cabinet, such as food colours, small amounts of rice and seeds. If you add bicarbonate of soda to your jars, they will bubble over and look like magic witchy potions!

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Whatever you do today, stay safe and well – and remember never to drink your potions!

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Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

 

You’re probably having to do some lessons at home now. Baking is a great way to learn about weights and measurements while also being a fun and tasty activity that you can share with all the family!

These Ostara buns (also known as hot-cross buns, eaten at Easter) are traditionally made to celebrate the pagan festival of spring. They are delicious and comforting when eaten warm and with a bit of butter or non-dairy spread. They also freeze really well, so you could make a big batch and stick some in the freezer to enjoy later if you can’t get out to buy bread.

Why not make a few extra and take them round to a neighbour who hasn’t been able to get to the shops? You’ll be sure to raise a smile.

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If you haven’t heard of Ostara before, here’s a little bit of information. See how many other springtime festivals you can find out about! The news might be grim, but spring promises new life and growth, more daylight and the hope of better days to come – so it’s worth celebrating!

 

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Whatever you do today, stay well and keep safe.

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Nature Month-by-Month – a children’s almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz is published by Nosy Crow and The National Trust and is available to order online.

Your independent bookshop can take orders over the phone and post books out to you, too. Give them a call!

Screenshot 2020-03-05 at 16.38.18March “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”. It feels that way today! The wind and the rain seem never ending this year. So much so that I couldn’t bring myself to write much last month, which is why there is no post for February. I know I am not alone in finding this winter hard: a lot of people have found this winter tough with horrendous flooding making life awful for so many of us up and down the country. So, let’s hope that the old country saying is right and that by the end of this month we’ll be basking in “lamb-like”, sunny, spring weather!

At least signs of new life are all around. Even on the greyest days you can find daffodils and primroses in the parks and gardens, and maybe magnolia and camellias too.

My favourite tree in the woods near where I live has kept me going this winter. I have loved going to visit it to see what a wonderful array of life there is inside the old tree stump, using the rotting wood for food and shelter. At first glance, it might look like a sad old broken thing…

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But if you look more closely, you’ll find that woodlice have burrowed deep inside the soft, rotting wood to make their homes, and wasps have been chewing away at the papery wood to make their nests. And those fungi are incredible! (Just remember not to touch them.)

Once I get outside, I am reminded daily of the lessons that Nature has to teach me. It sometimes feels as though I am being gently told to stop looking down at my feet and inside at my miserable moods, and to look up and outside of myself instead at the wonderful signs of life all around me.

I think that must be why there are so many hopeful festivals being celebrated around this world at this time of year. Today in Cornwall we are celebrating St Piran’s Day. St Piran is the patron saint of Cornish tin miners who spent so much of their lives deep down in the dark mines. He is a saint who gives hope as he was thrown into the Irish Sea by the kings of Ireland but is believed to have floated to safety to Cornwall! Other festivals this month which celebrate new life and hope are the Hindu festival of Holi, the pagan celebration of Ostara and the Muslim celebration of Isra and Mi’raj.

Finally, on 29th March we get an extra hour of daylight when the clocks “spring” forward one hour! So lots to look forward to as March marches on. Enjoy the extra light each day brings by getting out and about – and looking up and out, not down and in.

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There is an old country saying: “The blackest month of the year, is the month of Janiveer”. It’s true that although the days are getting a little longer, the mornings seem darker than ever. And some days the weather is so damp and dark and foggy that you could be forgiven for thinking the sun had not bothered to get up at all. On days like that, it takes a lot of effort for us humans to get up and out of the house!

But if you can find a way to motivate yourself to get outside in January, you will always be rewarded. Even on the bleakest, darkest, wettest day, if you keep your eyes open you will see signs of life and the promise of spring. Hazel trees already have catkins hanging from their branches in January; birds are out and about, trying to eat as much as they can to survive the winter months; owls can be heard in the evenings and dark mornings and you might see a fox or a badger on your way to school if you keep your eyes peeled. In some parts of the country you might see snowdrops or even daffodils poking their green shoots up out of the earth.

Why not make a nature notebook, as shown here in my 2020 almanac, Nature Month-by-Month.

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You can make it from scraps of recycled paper and make your own cover out of an old cereal packet or part of a cardboard box. Make it small enough so that you can slip it into your pocket, then you can take it out and about with you. Your winter walks will be more interesting now, as you’ll have a reason to get out and about – you can now note down all the wildlife and plant life that you see and notice how the world around you changes as January creeps towards February. Happy walking!

We are nearly at the end of the year. The days are getting shorter and the nights longer as midwinter creeps closer. It is easy to feel gloomy, but the good news is that from 21st December the days start to get longer! It is because of this promise of longer, lighter days that the longest night has traditionally been a time for celebration. The nights might be long this month, but they can be very beautiful if there are no clouds in the sky, as the moon is at its highest and clearest and the stars are at their brightest.

The dark can be depressing or scary, but just think: if there was no darkness, there would be no light! This is what all the festivals this month are about: finding light in the darkness.

You might think that Christmas is the oldest winter festival, but pagans have celebrated at midwinter for hundreds of years. 21st December is also known as the Winter Solstice or “Yule” which comes from a Norse word “houl” meaning “wheel” because of its place in the cycle of the seasons – or the “Wheel of the Year”.

Many of the pagan traditions of Yule have found their way into the celebration of Christmas. Perhaps you know the carol, The Holly and the Ivy – this has its roots in pagan traditions. Pagans also light candles and fires, decorate their homes with evergreen plants, feast, dance, and give gifts. All these things are now traditional at Christmas too. Pagans believe that hanging a sprig of holly near the door brings good luck and keeps away evil spirits. Mistletoe is also hung as decoration and as a blessing and symbol of new life.

Where I live in Cornwall there are lots of midwinter celebrations. In Penzance there is the Montol Festival (“montol” is an old Cornish word which means “the turning point of the year”). There is lots of dressing up, processions through the town, lanterns, singing, dancing, eating and drinking. At the end the “Mock” or yule log is marked with chalk and then burned. This log is a symbol of the light that we all yearn for in the darkness – it prevents the dark and the cold taking over.

Another good way to beat the chill is to do some winter baking! There’s nothing better on a cold, dark winter’s evening than to put on some cheery Christmas music and set to work baking some yummy warming treats. Why not have a go at making your own mince pies this year? There’s a recipe in my 2019 almanac:

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Whichever winter festival you celebrate this December, be it Solstice, Christmas or Hanukkah, I wish you a happy time and all the best for a prosperous and healthy New Year.

And look out for more treats and activities in next year’s almanac, which is available now!

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This autumn term is very long . . . the summer seems a lifetime away and we’ve all – teachers, parents, carers and children – been working hard for weeks and weeks. So it’s a relief that the holidays are here again. I am looking out at blue skies and sunshine and hoping that this weather is going to last for a while!

But even if it doesn’t, there are lots of games and activities that you can do indoors. I had great fun coming up with ideas for Nature Month-by-Month – in the 2019 edition you’ll find lots of ideas for Hallowe’en games, for example. These can be played inside or outside. I loved writing about these because it took me back to when my children were small. I didn’t used to be very happy about them going Trick or Treating as we lived in the countryside and the houses were quite a long way apart from each other down very dark lanes! But I wanted them to have fun on Hallowe’en, so we would invite all their friends to come to our house and we would have a big party. Here are some of the games we would play:

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Recently I have been researching and thinking up new ideas for an updated version of Nature Month-by-Month for 2020, which has just come out in the shops.

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I decided to write about pumpkin carving, as we always enjoyed doing this during half term, and it was a great activity to do on a rainy day or during one of the dark evenings after the clocks had gone back.

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You can make yummy things from the pumpkin flesh, so don’t throw it away! You can make delicious soup by frying up the pumpkin with onion and then adding stock, nutmeg, cream, salt and pepper. There are lots of good recipes online. You can also make scrummy pumpkin muffins like these:

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Whatever you do this holiday – whether you choose to go for blustery walks or whether you stay indoors and keep cosy – I hope you have a good rest and lots of fun!

As for me, seeing as it’s so sunny today, I think I’m going to take the dog and go for a walk through the crunchy autumn leaves this afternoon. Or maybe even go for a swim if the sea is calm enough . . .

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(Vlad says, “You could always curl up with a spooky Hallowe’en read if the weather outside is frightful ! Mwhahahahaaaaa!)

Vlad The World's Worst Vampire RGB