We’ve been a bit quiet over the last few weeks with semester descending upon us, but nature hasn’t gone away. I’m sure that you’ve all noticed the sudden drop in temperature this week as the seasons change. Lots of animals will be changing their behaviour to get themselves safely through the winter months. One group of animals that we’re all familiar with that will be getting ready to hibernate is ladybirds. Here’s a lovely video from the Natural History Museum in London showing how to make a Ladybird Lodge to see them through the winter.
If you want more detailed instructions, or you want to know a bit more about ladybirds, you can go the NHM’s webpages.
You might also like to check out our previous blogpost on ladybirds.
We’re really in late summer now. The mornings are cooler and we are starting to use lights in the evenings! There is still lots of insect life in the garden though and lots of wild flowers blooming. Do you have a regular walking route by a river or through a park where you can watch the seasons changing? Our nature diary shows you what to look out for this fortnight depending on where you are in the country. Check out the Nature Diary for 27th August – 9th September to find out what you might see, smell and hear over the next fortnight.
Although time is passing, and there is much change, there are many sights, and smells and sounds all around us. As we move into the latter half of August, we can start to spot seasonal changes, with elderberries ripening. There are still many insects about. While some are seldom seen, there are hints to their presence and activity. Sometimes we are struck by the colour or the pattern on a plant or animal. And sometimes it’s just about the amazing and unexpected appearance or shape of things in Nature. Check out the Nature Diary for 13th – 26th August to find out what you might see, smell and hear over the next fortnight.
Drawing animals for kids is a lot of fun but drawing animals together is also a powerful way to learn.
Taking some time to analyse a wildlife image first and you can learn a lot about the animals in your picture together before you even put pencil to paper!
Drawing animals for Kids & with Kids
Grab one of your animal photography books and let your child skim through its page until they find something they want to draw.
An important step to talk about the subject of your image before you start drawing. The best part about drawing is to take your time, and notice all the features closely and carefully to help you replicate it on paper.
Questions to ask before you start drawing
Here’s some more general questions you can ask your child before drawing from a wildlife image:
What animal is it? What’s the animal doing? Why do you think that? What body covering does the animal have? What type of animal is it? E.g. bird? Mammal? Reptile? Where could the animal be going? Is the animal happy or sad? Why do you think that? What’s in the background of the image or behind the animal? Is there anything in front of the animal? Why do you want to draw THIS animal?
Time is flying. Difficult to believe it’s time for another Nature Diary! At this time of the year, we can see young lizards and many insects on our walks. And we can hear grasshoppers. Our experiences, and connections to nature are enriched by the sights, smells, and sounds of nature, and how this makes us feel. Check out the Nature Diary for 30th July – 12th August to find out what you might see, smell and hear over the next fortnight.
This is one of the easiest ways to make sure your children continue to experience nature over and over, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Can you pause between getting out of the car and stepping through the front door to see if you and your child can find any interesting shapes in the clouds today? Can you schedule in a short family stroll one day a week? Can you make a habit of taking a cup of juice outside and counting how many different sounds you hear while you sip your drink?
2. Try a simple scavenger hunt
Children love a scavenger hunt. Try the backgarden scavenger hunt posted earlier on this site.
3. Swap art supplies for nature
Encourage creative nature play and draw the outline of a picture. Just print them off and finish the designs using leaves, flowers, bark or anything else you find outdoors.
4. Create a nature table
A nature table is a flat surface in your home where you can collect and display the treasures you find in nature, whether it’s seed pods, fallen leaves, an old bird’s nest that has fallen or something in between, just remember not to break trees or touch anything that has an animal living in it. Spend time outdoors looking for little treasures for your nature table. Use an old cupcake tray to store some of the objects you find.
5. Let them get bored
It might make you feel like a bad parent, but letting your kids find their own solutions to their boredom is one of the best things you can do for their creativity and resilience.
6. Get out with friends
When other kids come over for a play date, get everyone outside with this list of things to do. Or organise to meet friends at a park or for a child-friendly walk. Please ensure you follow all current public health advice and practice social distancing.
7. Create an inviting play space outside
Along with the traditional outdoor toys like a ball or skipping rope, you can also have baskets for collecting items from nature, and maybe even some old bowls, buckets or kitchen utensils that you’re prepared for them to use while making mud pies.
Did you know that your food may contain toxic levels of trace metals or your drinking water may contaminate with toxic levels of trace metals? How can we ensure that trace metal levels stay within safe limits in our foods, in our water?
What are these trace metals? and how they enter into our environment?
Trace metals are elements such as iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), Manganese (Mn), vanadium (V), and molybdenum (Mo) that are normally occur at very low concentrations in the environment. Sources of trace metals in the environment can be natural (geogenic) or anthropogenic. Natural processes include breakdown of rocks, volcanic activities, and spreading of mid-ocean ridges. Human activities including mineral resource extraction, fossil fuel combustion, industrial manufacturing, and wastewater disposal release trace metals in to the environment. Most of the usual things we use in our day to day life like oil and lubricants, cosmetics and personal care products, medicines, and fertilizers and pesticides contain trace metals and we release them into the environment as waste.
Some trace metals are inorganic micronutrients that are required by living things, in very low concentrations, but ingestion of, or exposure to, excessive quantities can be toxic. For example, Fe is an essential element in human blood which transports oxygen around the body. However, if too much of Fe is consumed, it can be toxic to human body. The toxicity of trace metals depends not only on the concentration in the environment, but also where it is found in the environment (water, soil, air), chemical forms of the metals (species), acidity of the environment, source of the metal (natural or anthropogenic) etc.
Trace metal contamination in aquatic ecosystems
Human activities have resulted in widespread contamination of aquatic ecosystems by a wide range of inorganic substances, including numerous trace metals (including metalloids and non-metals with metal-like properties). Trace metal contamination in aquatic environments is a ubiquitous, persistent and complex problem, often with significant consequences for ecological and human health. Anthropogenic inputs from activities including mineral resource extraction, fossil fuel combustion, industrial manufacturing and other non-point sources are overwhelmingly the primary cause of most metal contamination in aquatic ecosystems and have made metals much more bioavailable. Unlike organic contaminants, inorganic trace metal contaminants do not decompose over time into less toxic substances, but accumulate and persist in a range of chemical forms (species) with varying biological availabilities and toxicities. While some trace metals have no positive biological role (e.g. Hg, Cd, Pb, As, U), many are essential micronutrients (e.g. Cu, Zn, Fe, Ni and Cr) with a significant role in metabolic pathways, are co-factors for many enzymes and have structural functions when associated with carbohydrates, nucleic acids and proteins. Aquatic organisms have therefore evolved to take up trace metals at typical background concentrations and many have developed complex biochemical pathways. However, at elevated metal concentrations or with high proportions of bioavailable species, many organisms find it difficult to adequately regulate their tissue levels and trace metals become toxic.
Therefore, how these metals dissolved and move around in water and what other chemicals they attach to are important. Metals in aquatic systems have the tendency to bind to organic matter, or suspended particles, and thus accumulate within fine-grained sediments. However, with changing oxygen concentrations, redox conditions or pH, metals can be remobilized into pore waters and the overlying water column, and/or accumulate within benthic organisms and the associated food webs. Therefore, sediments act as long-term sinks, but also as potential sources of metal contaminants in aquatic systems.
More sources of metal poisoning:
Mercury (Hg) poisoning; Minamata disease in Japan in 1956
Cadmium (Cd) poisoning; itai-itai disease in Japan
Arsenic (As) contamination in drinking water in Bangladesh
If you like to read more about the sources, sinks, and internal cycling of trace elements in ocean please visit international GEOTRACES website https://www.geotraces.org
Den building is a fantastic activity for all ages. You can do it at any time of year, but also rmember to use fallen leaves and branches. by doing this your are practising the principles of Leave No Trace.
Dens make perfect birdwatching hides, as well as shelters and basecamps for woodland walks. Building a den is also great fun for the whole family and a wonderful way to spend time together, so head outdoors and try out our top tips.
Get everyone to set about collecting natural materials from the woodland floor. Make sure kids aren’t breaking off living branches or damaging trees. If you use any unnatural materials such as string or rope, remember to take them home at the end of the day.
You will need:
long, straight branches and sticks
lots of thin, bendy sticks
materials to cover your den, such as dried leaves, twigs and grass
Beware. Make sure to avoid picking or walking through bracken, as it can be home to ticks.
Why not hold a den-building competition?
How to build your den
Coming up with your own den design is part of the fun, but here are a couple of simple ideas to get you started.
Find a tree with a fork in the branches that’s quite low down.
Make a frame by propping some long, straight sticks in the fork and fanning them out. Also make sure that any branches are really secure – you don’t want them slipping.
Weave bendy sticks in and out of the upright sticks to make the walls. Leave a gap at head height for a window.
Cover your den with natural materials so it’s camouflaged and weatherproof. You could use mud to stick them on.
Scatter a carpet of dried leaves on the floor to make your den extra cosy.
Find two forked trees that are close together and place a long stick between them.
Prop a row of sticks against it on each side so you end up with a tent shape.
Weave your bendy sticks in and out of the upright and add your plant materials.
Make a mini den
This activity is a lovely way for very small children to have a go at den building. Simply collect a handful of small sticks and prop them up against a tree trunk or fallen branch to make a mini den. Make the inside of your shelter nice and cosy with some fallen leaves. Now it’s ready for child’s favourite teddies or dolls.
Don’t forget to dismantle your den and Leave No Trace of your visit.
Before you head home, please remember to take your den down. On your next visit you can have fun building it all over again, or you can experiment with a different design!
Want to do a bit of community science? Flower-Insect Timed Counts are a fun and hugely useful way to contribute to our scientific knowledge about pollinators. You’ve probably heard people voicing concern that bees and other pollinating insects are in decline, and you can help scientists collect the data they need to study the problem.
All you need is a sunny day, a tape measure, a patch of flowers, and a recording sheet.
Summer is a great time to get outside and learn more about the environment.
Rock pooling and enjoying the ocean is a great way to spend the afternoon. This hands-on experience will introduce kids to the wide variety of sea creatures that lurk on our shores. Getting their hands wet will make an everlasting experience for them.
What you need:
Buckets or clear tupperware containers
A field guide or ID sheet
A Camera and or pens and paper
An adult to help you keep an eye on the tide.
On the day:
Half fill your buckets or containers with seawater. Have more than one to keep bad tempered animals apart. Use your hands to carefully lift crabs, starfish and other sea creatures into your containers.
Nets can cause damage to rockpools and are best avoided.
Use a guide to identify your creatures. Take notes, sketch them or photograph them. Return the animals to where you found them and you’ve finished looking. Wash your hands before eating.
Here’s some tips to keep the rockpool safe for future generations and to leave no trace of your visit:
Don’t take living animals or plans with you…
Don’t prise limpets, anemones or seaweed from their rocky homes.
Be careful not to damage delicate animals.
Replace rocks to the same position once you’ve looked underneath.