The days are growing longer, flowers are blooming and birds are singing their morning chorus.
Spring has come and nature is waking up – but are we waking up to nature?
Judging by the excitement at a ‘wild beach week’ event organised in Portsmouth by the Wildlife Trust, the answer would be a resounding yes.
Youngsters are dashing about the Milton Locks Nature Reserve, scouting for grasshoppers, picking up seashells and finding small crabs in the mud flats of Langstone Harbour.
Their parents look just as enthusiastic, helping the little ones to explore the area and the creatures which call it home.
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust assistant education officer Jess Daish-Miller thinks that although people are becoming more aware of the environment, there is still a long way to go.
‘There are lots of children living in Portsmouth who never go to the seaside,’ says the 32-year-old from Fareham.
‘Some children who come down here tell me that they’re seeing spiders because they’ve not seen a crab before.’
Jess believes the problem is that many people aren’t confident enough to take their children out.
‘Their parents might think it’s dangerous or unsafe, but we want to encourage them to come outside and connect with their surroundings.’
Jess says she wants more people to have the pleasure of exploring Milton Locks.
‘This is a really special place for me and I’ve spent a lot of time here.
‘I’m really passionate about getting this community to fall back in love with it.
‘Half the time you can’t even hear the traffic here, it’s lovely and really peaceful.
‘We’ve had problems with litter and antisocial behaviour in the past, but the more people are using it in a positive way, the fewer problems we’ve had.’
Jess says the area is home to a wide variety of species, many of which are rarely seen.
Langstone Harbour is a common calling point for a group of about 25 harbour seals which roam up and down the Solent.
Over winter, the nature reserve plays host to large numbers of Brent geese and many other bird species visit in the warmer months.
Less noticeable are the species which each play a role in the region’s complex ecosystem existing below, or just above, the water’s surface. These include sea grass, peacock worms and the common cockle.
Alice says Portsmouth residents are lucky to be surrounded by marine nature, with reserves including Milton Locks and Farlington Marshes as well as miles of seashore.
Among the youngsters taking part in the wild beach day is seven-year-old Alice Barnes, from Milton.
Alice says: ‘We’ve seen a lot of shore crabs, and I found a bit of litter and we picked it up.
‘I also found lots of little snails but I didn’t want to pick them up.’
Alice is using a tray so that she can pick up and have a proper look at the crabs before putting them back.
Alice’s mum, Ann, says the event is a great way to bring children closer to nature.
‘I think it’s really good to encourage kids to get outdoors and see what’s right on their doorsteps,’ she says.
‘Kids need to be shown what’s there, and then if they get to experience it properly, hopefully they’ll be able to take care of it more as they get older.’
Jess says she thinks awareness of environmental issues is growing. She says: ‘Groups such as ours and the Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds are all pushing this issue of children being disconnected from their environment.
‘I think it’s something that we are waking up to gradually.’
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust runs regular events across the region to encourage children and adults to get more involved in the environment.
A world beneath the waves
Polly Whyte, 32, is a project officer with the marine education programme Making Waves, which is run by the Wildlife Trust. Here, she introduces us to her three favourite sea creatures.
‘The sea off the coast of Hampshire may appear cold and murky, but it is in fact full of fantastic wildlife. People are always amazed when I show them pictures of the rainbow-coloured fish, pretty anemones and comical-looking crabs that live right on our doorstep.
‘With their upright body, long snout and flexible tail, seahorses are a different-looking type of fish. They are notoriously difficult to spot as they have a knack of resembling a piece of seaweed swaying in the current. They use their curly tail to cling on to seaweed and it also comes in useful with their courtship dance. Seahorses pair for life and to reinforce their bond, they perform a courtship dance every morning, circling around each other or spiralling around an object. I suppose it’s equivalent to us giving our loved one a morning kiss, although the courtship dance can last up to an hour! Unusually in the animal kingdom, it’s the male seahorses which carry the eggs and give birth to the young. The female transfers the eggs to the male’s pouch where he fertilises the eggs and nurtures them until the young seahorses are born.
Dad shares love of the outdoors
Visiting the seaside, says, Sam Jenkins, makes him feel like a youngster again.
So it’s no wonder the 37-year-old dad from Milton is keen to pass on a love of nature to his own children.
Sam is at the wild beach day with his son George, three, and daughter Eva, six.
He says he has always thought of the beach as a special place.
‘I grew up in the Midlands,’ he says.
‘They say Coventry is the most landlocked city in the country so I used to go crazy when I came down to the sea.
‘I still don’t take the sea for granted and I’m like a kid when I see it.’
Sam says he plays ‘nature detectives’ with his children, and they’ve found interesting objects including old keys and Victorian-era glass bottles while taking the dog for a walk.
‘We went crabbing in Canoe Lake yesterday,’ he says.
‘We actually caught a prawn and we ate it with our dinner last night.
‘It was quite a good-sized prawn!’
At a glance...
Wildlife Watch events take place regularly across the region, giving youngsters aged five to 15
a chance to explore nature with their parents or minders. Upcoming events include: today at the Gosport Wildgrounds and at Southsea’s Cumberland House Natural History Museum; Saturday, April 25 at Staunton Country Park. Events run from 10am to midday, visit hiwwt.org.uk for more informaiton.
Other events include :
Hillhead Shoresearch Survey - Record the seaweed and animals found when the tide goes out. Meet at the Hill Head Sailing Club at 3.30pm. Call Abbi Scott on 01489 774439.
Holly Bank Woods walk - Explore the woods and see the orchids. Meet in Emsworth Common Road on Wednesday, April 29 at 7pm. Call John Goodspeed on 07811 435252 for more.
Wildlife and general knowledge quiz at St Peter’s Church Hall in Bishops Waltham, Monday, April 27 at 7.30pm.
For more information about the Wildlife Trust’s events, visit hiwwt.org.uk.