I’ve been wanting to visit Skelton Grange for ages. It does in Leeds what our St Nicks does here in York. Both are environment centres in urban settings offering, amongst many other things, conservation volunteering opportunities and the chance to frolic (or stomp around – as you prefer) in nature and learn more about it.
St Nicks held its Autumn Fayre on Saturday 15 October (where I presided over the creation of a community poem). The Saturday before that, Skelton Grange held their Big Green Weekend Open Day, and invited me to come and put on an event for visitors. An invitation I couldn’t refuse!
So, I got to Skelton Grange at last! And took families with younger children on Rhyme Time Rambles round their grounds.
The setting for Skelton Grange is urban. Very urban:
The approach to Skelton Grange Environment Centre
But step inside, and you’re in a different world, with woodland and ponds and fruit trees and bird hides …
A bird hide at Skelton Grange
… and minibeast hotels and mosaics and sculptures …
and, and, and!
There was *lots* going on at this Open Day, from spinning to willow weaving to charcoal making to … a tug of war. Oh, and spoon-making, of course, by Dan of 2carvedspoons!
Dan with his beautiful carved spoons (and bowls)
Thank you to everyone who came and joined in my Rhyme Time Rambles. And to the Robin that came along for the ride!
Thank you too to Freya for suggesting me to Skelton Grange in the first place. And to Toby for all his admin and organisation.
Freya busy serving freshly baked pizzas
If you live in Leeds and haven’t been to Skelton Grange, then I thoroughly recommend it as a place where both you and the kids can run around through bird- and minibeast-rich woodland and meadow and get a real sense of being in the great outdoors slap bang in the middle of a big city. A place where you can breathe.
Well, I never thought when I started up theBigBuzz back in 2007 that I would end up performing at Le Moulin Rouge in the company of Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Ant and Dec. But that’s exactly what happened this Yorkshire Day (= 1st August, for the uninitiated!)
Perhaps I need to unpack that a little. Le Moulin Rouge in question was a fantastic Spiegeltent temporarily erected in the centre of my home town York, as part of The Great Yorkshire Fringe Festival.
Le Moulin Rouge (The York spiegeltent version!)
And Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Ant and Dec were in fact present in the guise of face masks only, aka local volunteers judging the Yorkshire’s Got Talent portion of the day’s events. (And boy, has Yorkshire ever got talent! The contestants all sang amazingly!)
Simon Cowell (almost)
What was the day? Well, it was the family part of the Yorkshire Day Festival, a whole day and night’s worth of acts performing to raise money for the Lord Mayor’s charities, one of which is St Nicks (of which I am a Patron).
It was fabulous to watch so many other talented acts over the course of the day – and in such an amazing performance space.
Ukelele Sunshine Revival performing in Le Moulin Rouge
My contribution to the day was an edu-taining ‘Birds and the Bees’ poetry show. I’m pleased to say the feedback was great – including this on the day:
‘The Birds and The Bees act was very good. My granddaughter loved it and was up on stage holding up drawings. Very good day indeed.’
I hope that much money was raised for the Lord Mayor’s charities. And that the families who came along were inspired by my portion of the day to do plenty of minibeast hunting and birding over the summer holidays.
Thank you to the friendly and professional crew at the venue who were a great help to us all. And to Emma Courtney of The Social Octopus and Kellie Taylor for organising the event.
The Moulin Rouge crew in action
If you’d like some ‘amazing’ eco-edutainment at your event, just get in touch!
‘Step through the magnificent gates into a magical woodland world …’ the Festival brochure said. And it wasn’t wrong.
On Sunday, children, parents, grandparents and godparents galore gathered in Malton’s ‘secret garden’, Castle Gardens, for the Ryedale Book Festival Family Fun Day themed around nature.
The day started off with artist and illustrator Matt Sewell teaching us all how to draw birds, in his Spotting and Jotting workshop:
Matt Sewell teaching us how to draw birds
Then storyteller Catherine Heinemeyer and I took to the stage to perform our Flying High show all about birdsong – ably assisted by members of the audience, young and not-so-young alike.
Catherine Heinemeyer and I performing Flying High, ably assisted by an audience member. Ryedale Book Festival, October 2015
And the entertainments kept coming! I had had a word with the Mayor of Malton on the previous Friday about securing us good weather for the day, and she didn’t disappoint. It was a beautiful sun-soaked Autumn day. So we were able to enjoy and explore the outdoor space with a book-cover trail, particularly fine face-painting …
Face painting by Sarah Corner of facepaintingcorner.co.uk
… freshly baked pizzas and coffee and cakes, all accompanied by exquisitely crafted book-themed songs written and performed by the fabulous Bookshop Band.
The Bookshop Band at Ryedale Book Festival
Waterstones was on hand to sell books, with a nice big space for us authors to sign and dedicate copies for our readers.
Signing copies of Buzzing! at the Waterstones bookstall
And whilst we were roaming the Gardens, Matt Sewell was at the boundary wall creating a wonderful bird-themed mural – a flurry of Long-tailed Tits:
Matt Sewell creating his mural at Castle Gardens, Malton
All in all a lovely, lovely day with a huge range of inspiring activities and experiences for all ages. If you missed it this year, then do put Ryedale Book Festival in your diary for next year.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the Festival brochure:
‘The Ryedale Book Festival is an inclusive, community-led, not for profit organisation run by a team of dedicated volunteers with a passion for books. If you would like to get involved, contact the Festival team: email@example.com‘
And … it even has its own beer!
Thank you to all the volunteers who put so much work into creating such a friendly and well-run Festival – especially Sarah Tyson, Audrie Woodhouse, Helen Lowdell and Pinelopi Bourke. It was a great pleasure to be part of it.
Lucky primary-school children of Calderdale, I say! I do so with some confidence having attended the Calderdale Food for Life School Awards event in gorgeous Hebden Bridge last week.
There I heard first hand from teachers and pupils about the wonderful work they’re doing around growing, cooking and sharing healthy, fresh, seasonal, local food in their schools. From inviting farmers’ markets into schools to putting on Father’s Day lunch for their Dads to growing the brussel sprouts for their school Christmas dinner, there are oodles of inspiring food-related activities going on in these schools.
As soon as I got off the train in Hebden Bridge I was greeted by this sign:
So I had a feeling I was going to encounter some very creative juices that day. And I wasn’t wrong! The children of Old Town, Ling Bob, Midgley, Bolton Brow and Riverside primary schools came up with fabulous mystery food poems – some of which will be displayed at the Town Hall for all to enjoy. (Will you be able to guess the mystery food?)
Even the Mayor and her Consort joined in the poetry writing, and came up with a corking poem all about … Ah, but that would be telling!
Mayor of Calderdale Cllr Lisa Lambert and her consort, Mr Ken Lambert – with their Buzzing! bookmarks
If you’d like to join in the Rhubarb poem – indeed, if you’d like a poetry day themed around food, growing and healthy eating for your primary school – just email me. I’ll be delighted to respond to your school’s requirements.
And if you’re a grown-up with an event or special occasion in mind, you might like to check out my Rhyme and Dine events, in which I intersperse rib-tickling food poems between the courses of your meal.
You don’t have to have a big garden to have big garden thrills. Here are two of my highlights from the past week in my 8m x 8m garden in Heslington, on the outskirts of York. Both were ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ thrills – hence the less than 110% perfect pix!
The nearest thing to a hummingbird that I’m going to see in my garden – a Hummingbird hawkmoth, 7 June 2015
Baby robins being fed on my recliner, 8 June 2015
Keep a beady eye out for big garden thrills where you are. It’s a great time of year for them!
The theme chosen by Half Acres Primary School in Castleford for my photography workshops with them on Monday was ‘Signs of Summer’. However, this message clearly hadn’t percolated through to the relevant meteorological authorities, because the weather as I travelled down to them was appalling: driving, torrential rain and thunderous grey skies.
Fortunately, by the time Year 6 were ready to go on the photography missions I assigned them late morning, the rain had eased enough for us to be outside collecting material to photograph – albeit taking the actual photos under cover.
Taking outdoor photos under cover
And when Year 5 went out in the afternoon, the sun decided to make a (brief) appearance, which meant that the children were able to find – and photograph – some fantastic minibeasts, amongst other things.
Taking outdoor photos outdoors proper
I was very impressed by all the children I worked with at Half Acres. They got the hang of my Top Secret photography technique very quickly and put it into action in their school grounds enthusiastically.
The results? Well, here are a few of the – many – great photos they took:
Well done to you all! I think Half Acres will be able to create their ‘Signs of Summer’ photography display after all!
Thank you to everyone at Half Acres who made my visit possible. Here’s to a sunny summer for us all …
If you’d like a photography workshop for your primary school, do get in touch. I’m afraid I won’t be able to guarantee good weather for my visit to you, but your pupils will learn a skill for life in a workshop that enhances their observational, motor, teamwork, art and IT skills, increases their confidence and their curiousity and knowledge about their surroundings, and leaves you with a bank of great photos – and great budding photographers.
‘I’m going to go out tomorrow lunchtime and look for more minibeasts on the playing field.’ Year 5 pupil
‘I’m going to go to my grandma’s house tonight and take pictures of her garden. She’s got lots of flowers.’ Year 5 pupil
So, as we head towards the end of January 2015, it’s high time I looked back over the wildlife wonders of 2014 here in my little garden in Heslington, on the outskirts of York. As ever, there were plenty of wildlife surprises over the course of the year. Here, in chronological order, are some of the highlights.
Moving away from the buzzing of bees, do you happen to know what this sound is:
The astute amongst you may have guessed that what you were listening to was courting hedgehogs. On several nights in July we had a pair of hedgehogs wandering – warily – round and round and round each other in circles, making a noise that explains where they get the name ‘hogs’ from! This courting goes on for quite some time.
Courting hedgehogs, 11 July 2014
We’ve been lucky enough to have hedgehog couples come to our garden for their amorous ‘getting to know you’ routine before, and it was great to see them back here in 2014.
Newly hatched Berberis sawfly larvae, 24 June 2014
On the moth front, the highlight was undoubtedly the appearance of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth on our honeysuckle in late September. With the added bonus that I managed to get my camera out and the settings sorted in time to take this photo.
Hummingbird Hawkmoth on our honeysuckle, 24 September 2014
It’s not brilliant, but it’s my best Hummingbird Hawkmoth photo yet – and a distinct improvement on the ‘blur at a fleur’ pix of said moth that I’ve managed on the two previous occasions I’ve seen this beauty in our garden. (Yes, a grand total of 3 sightings in 18 years!)
You can find out more about the Hummingbird Hawkmoth in my Buzzing! book.
Our Memorable Amphibian Incident of 2014 happened late in the year when I found a frog in the dining room. (Tricky things to catch, leaping frogs. But I did eventually manage to escort it off the premises.)
And finally … staying indoors, I noticed a speck of dirt on our living room carpet in early November. I was making a mental note to sweep it up at some point, when it jumped. Now, I’m no physicist, but I’m pretty certain specks of dirt don’t jump.
So, out came the camera, and when I zoomed in on the photo, I saw that far from being a speck of dirt, it was in fact an insect. The same insect I had mistaken for a speck of soil outside on our patio the week before.
Yorkshire Orthoptera Recorder Dr Dave Chesmore confirmed it as a Slender groundhopper (Tetrix subulata):
“It is a species that has been really under recorded,” he said.
I’m not surprised – it’s tiny!
Slender groundhopper – just 1cm long.
This is the first indoor record Dave has of a Slender groundhopper. Moral of the tale: don’t be too assiduous in your hoovering. It may be you are in the presence of an important biological specimen that needs recording! (And then releasing into the outdoors before you continue with your housework.)
So, that’s a brief rundown of the best of 2014. What wildlife wonders will 2015 bring to Heslington? Who knows. However, the year has started well, with a visit from a Lesser Redpoll – a bird I’ve only ever seen once or twice here before. An excellent start to my BTO Garden Birdwatch year.
Lesser Redpoll on our sunflower seeds, 16 January 2015
I wish you a 2015 filled with wildlife wonders, wherever you may be. And don’t forget to let the relevant recording organisations know what you’ve seen. There’s a list of who to tell about what at my website.