In my final week I had the chance to assist in Forest Schooling, a session run by the Community Interest Company Nature Links, which operates in Hounslow and Surrey. This is just one of the fantastic sessions offered by Bedfont Lakes for children and families. Forest Schooling is typically run for children up to the age of eight and is all about encouraging creative play in an outdoor environment in order to build confidence and self-esteem.
Following a brief Health and Safety message at the park entrance, the session commenced by searching for ‘Base Camp’. Base Camp turned out to be a sheltered 30/40m2 section of one of the woody areas in the park, with a small clearing in the centre that contained a seating area made from logs.
The Eurasian water shrew is an insectivorous rodent that grows to around only 15cm long! Despite its unimpressive size, it has venomous saliva which it uses to temporarily paralyse prey, such as river fly larvae, which it catches by acrobatically diving to river beds. Due to their small size, water shrews have a high metabolism and must consume about half of their own body weight in insects a day or risk starvation!
Part of my project with the Ecologist at Bedfont Lakes is to investigate whether these tiny mammals are present along the river banks of some of Hounslow Boroughs nature reserves.
Thanks to the fantastic summer weather this week I was able to help with both butterfly and bird surveys. These involve following a set route around the park and noting down where and when different species were spotted, along with things such as weather conditions and the sex of individual. It takes far more skill than I had anticipated to be able to ID birds and butterflies, and the Junior Ecologist is able to tell a great tit from a long tailed tit just from the duration of its cheeps. Since the park is home to over 150 bird species it is safe to stay bird ID is still a mystery to me (for now)!
I’ve spent the last week at Bedfont Lakes Country Park, which is a 180 acre haven situated less than 1.5km from the bustling Heathrow Airport. Despite this, it is home to a multitude of protected species and habitats, such as tufty heathland and beautiful wild flower meadows. In its small petting zoo it also cares for some rescued pets (including tarantulas and racoon dogs!).
My Charity Insights placement involves working with both the Education and the Ecology Team at the park, and so far I have waded through the River Crane, cuddled bearded dragons and answered some very strange questions from seven year old children!