This year we ran events above and beyond our Chequered Skipper guided walks, and you may have seen us at various locations throughout the regions surrounding Rockingham Forest! Here we wanted to share a little bit more about what has been happening at these events from June through to August and why they are so valuable. This is the first of two blogs dedicated to these events and will focus on three engagement events and activities that took place at more rural sites in Rockingham Forest. The second blog will cover three events in urban areas.

June 18th gave way to our first event partnered with Northamptonshire Amphibian and Reptile Group (Northants ARG). Amidst the dreary wind and rain, we set up under the shelter of Fineshade Wood’s Sensory Garden. A gazebo was nestled up against one side of the garden to allow us to make the most of the space despite the clouds! Kevin and his grandson (a stellar helper) brought with them some newts from their garden which captivated the visitors at their stand. The younger ones especially so, following the newts around their temporary homes swimming from one shelter to another inside the tank. Adele and Angie were also lending a hand, volunteering their time chatting with parents and engaging the children with various colouring activities – in total almost 30 people braved the weather to come and see us at this event! 

At the Butterfly Conservation stand, we had moths galore from the previous night’s trapping. Burnished Brass and Blood-vein were some of our favourites to showcase the beauty of moths (pictured below). After some fun identifying a good portion with the children, we set out on a little expedition in the form of a guided walk and a scavenger hunt. Three families and a couple had the opportunity to see a slow-worm – many of them for the first time! Cinnabar, yellow-tail, and peacock caterpillars were found unphased by the rain on ragwort, blackthorn, and nettles in turn. Critically, seeing these live specimens can give people an opportunity to have memorable and transformative moments face-to-face with these magnificent creatures. Creatures that can be underappreciated or even feared when we live apart from and disengaged with them. Hopefully, the excitement and sense of discovery will stay with everyone who attended this event, an event which just goes to show that even in less-than-ideal weather there can be plenty of wildlife to uncover!

July 5th saw us join along to a session run by McHadson's School for the Inquisitive and Wild at Fermyn Country Park. They are a fantastic home-schooling group which supports children and their parents in getting out and about in nature while making valuable links to the national curriculum. In this session, they opened a moth trap in the outdoor classroom and learned about species identification, a skill they took forward to conduct a practice butterfly transect using resources from the Big Butterfly Count to help. They exercised skills in measuring and calculating distances and the importance of following a methodology (see picture below) when collecting data.

Chequered Skipper butterfly
Chequered Skipper

The highlight on the transect was a dark green fritillary and, rather excitingly, a five-spotted burnet moth (more often we see the six-spotted species!). A young girl at the event who feared moths offered up a fantastic insight as she was seeing bees and wasps on the walk. She mentioned that for some reason she was not afraid of wasps and that ‘the people who were scared of wasps but that still like bees’ were the same as her in that she ‘loved butterflies but did not like moths. She realised how strange that was. Hopefully, this means she was one step closer to conquering her fear of moths! On return to the outdoor classroom, we plotted our findings on a chalk graph on the floor and the children learned about all the information which you need to include when you draw a bar plot. It was truly wonderful to attend and support this session, the children were able to identify and better understand so many of the insects they saw on their transect beyond the butterflies and were so excited and energised when we came to wrap up the session! There are many ways we can use the outdoors to teach concepts in a far more engaging way than in the typical indoor classroom setting.

As July came to a close, we had the joy of running a family-engagement event at Lyvden New Bield on the 27th of July partnered with the National Trust. This event coincided with the Big Butterfly Count and Doug Goddard ran two guided walks around the site – which gave people plenty of chance to brush up on their identification skills and participate in a long-running citizen science project! Two volunteers from the National Trust also gave up their time to lend a hand with the stand. This meant we were able to make for a rich day of learning and be as attentive as possible to all visitors with seed planting and plant pot making for butterflies and the butterfly colouring proving a real hit. Plenty of visitors came with scavenger hunts in hand to also enjoy exploring the site with full freedom. 

While only one of our moth traps was successful (the light failing to work as planned on the other) we had more than enough of our fluffy light-loving friends to showcase on the day! The moth encounters did not end there, an impressive species showed its face at a nearby wildflower patch to our stand – the magnificent hummingbird hawkmoth (see picture)! Many of the almost 50 total visitors managed to get a look in and see this moth in action darting acrobatically between flowers. A young boy who attended however was far more enthralled by the caterpillars and managed to find a colour variation that all stumped us at first – a green painted lady caterpillar (see picture). When asked, he said that was his favourite of all the things he had seen that day!