When I woke up on Saturday morning, the morning of the Open Day, the sun was shining – but not for long. Soon the rain was pouring down and the wind was blowing like there was no tomorrow. “Better dig out my waterproofs” I thought
By the time I got to the Urban Wildlife Centre at 10.30am the sun was shining again. It was going to be one of those days!
I was based in the Education Room with the “wildlife”. However due to the rubbish cold weather no one had been able to find any reptiles warming themselves under the tins nearby and the only small mammals were a pair of baby woodmice.
A snake of people walk out onto the heath
What we did have were the saviors! Two glorious buckets of water… one with pond water and the other with river water from the River Piddle (I love that name). With pond dipping nets and some white trays Emma (one of our willing helpers) was able to find some great pond and river creatures. Mayfly nymphs, worms, snails, caddisfly larva – you name it we had it in those two buckets. We even managed to find three Newts!
With the help of a nifty bit of technology we were able to put a small drop of water on a dish and project some of these wonderful little creatures onto the screen of a computer at 200x magnification. Mosquitoes may be a pain in the butt (literally) in a summer evening but projected onto a screen, a mosquito larva is mesmerising.
Steve Davis telling us about the Smooth Snake
With live images from our Lorton Meadow kestrel nestbox and a local great-tit nest box projected onto the big screen at the end of the room, and lots of colouring in and activities for kids, it wasn’t long before we had some customers and the room soon filled with the sound of oooh’s and ahhhh’s, laughing and chatting.
At midday I was asked to help on one of the guided walks on Upton Heath (following up at the back to pick up the waifs and strays). The idea was to give people a better understanding of the heath and the habitats and wildlife it supports. It’s such a misunderstood place – and many people just think of it as “scruffy, untidy land”.
Steve Davis with the Smooth snake
So off we went with our “snake” of people, up onto the heath in strong wind but occasional sunshine. Steve, the leader, stopped along the way to give interesting heathy info, and he even found TWO smooth snakes(warming themselves under rusty tins placed strategically around the walk). These are our rarest snakes in the UK, so it was a real treat for people to see them. Only Steve could touch them (as you need to be licensed to handle them) but some people got pretty close views!
Eventually it was time to head back to the Centre, stuff ourselves with burgers and sausages from the BBQ, clear up and head for home. A great day. 100+ people through the door and hopefully a few more people going away with a better understanding of the heath, their local wildlife and the role that Dorset Wildlife Trust plays in helping to protect it.
Time to put my feet up!