Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Nature Walk and Bush Crafts

Today our Home Education Group went on a nature walk to Milton Common.

Milton Common is reclaimed land formed by tipping in the large area of mudland that was called Milton Lake. The area has now settled and this expansive grassland forms a valuable wildlife habitat. 
The grassland is the only large area of ‘natural’ grass on Portsea Island and is a haven for insects and small mammals. Butterflies are the insects most people notice. Several species whose caterpillars feed on native grasses live here including the Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Wall Brown and Gatekeeper. Other species that frequent the Common are Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral and Comma whose caterpillars feed on the large healthy stands of stinging nettle. 

There are many other insect species including several species of grasshoppers and the Great Green Bush Cricket (Tettigonia viridissma). A colony was introduced here in the late 70’s from Eastney when that colony was threatened by development. 

The grassland also provides food and shelter for small mammals such as the Field Vole and Common Shrew. The former feeds on the grass and is fed on in turn by Kestrels, owls and foxes. Shrews feed on the abundant insect life in the grass.

The lakes on the Common support many aquatic species including frogs, toads and Smooth Newts. In summer, dragonflies can be seen hawking over the lakes accompanied by Swallows, Swifts and House Martins, all attracted by the abundance of small flies and midges emerging from the water. 

Around the lakes the reed beds provide shelter for many birds. Some of these such as Swan, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard and Tufted Duck can often be seen swimming about the lake. More timid birds like the Great Crested Grebe and Dabchick tend to stay in open water. 

In winter, the reeds shelter Long Tailed and Bearded Tits and many other migrant birds on passage south.

The other major habitat is the bramble thickets. These form valuable nesting sites for many small birds and shelter for migrants in spring and autumn. They also provide an important food supply and homes for many other species including Long Tailed Field Mice and Common Lizards.

The walk was led by a wildlife enthusiast and photographer who led us on a trail where the children could find a lot of "free food". They found apples, pears, figs, cherries, plums,  blackberries, nettle, fennel and burdock. Later, on the beach, they were shown how to build a fire safely, and were able to cook some of the fruits they had collected.

Hannah had a lovely day and learnt a lot about forraging, animal tracking and beach combing.

Swan and Cygnets on Swan Lake

Along the shoreline.
A Fox Den
Beach Finds
Roasting Apples
Everyone had a go at cooking on the fire.
Sweet Peas in the hedges.
A Fig Tree
Grasslands
Cherry Tree
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