Treemendous fun

Hello and welcome back. It’s been a hectic summer for the Ranger Dept with August seeing us being particularly busy. It is during this period, and especially August, that the Rangers at Sissinghurst take on a slightly different role.

I’ve talked previously about the more physical roles that we undertake such as coppicing and hedgelaying but during the summer our role often veers to an equally important educational role. Here at Sissinghurst we have a fantastic opportunity to explore and investigate the vast array of differing habitats and flora and fauna that exist on the estate. As a team we are well aware that learning should be fun and that it’s what you find out for yourself that you remember best. We all remember the tedious classroom days of information overload; well that’s not how we do it here!

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August is “the” month regarding the educational role of our job as it coincides with the school holidays. It is during these holidays that we plan and hold a series of educational fun days aimed at school children in the 6 to 11 age bracket. This August’s fun days were labelled “Treemendous Thursdays” and, as the name suggests, were held every Thursday during the month.

From 2 until 4 each Thursday, for a modest £5, the children were involved in a variety of themed activities all geared to learning something about their environment whilst having fun. The first Thursday saw a mini beast safari which involved turning over logs, pond dipping and seeing what bugs live in trees. We talked about why they are living where they are and to see what we could identify. It was a good excuse to get your hands dirty! The next Thursday was tree themed. The group looked at a variety of trees. We talked about the different ways one could establish the age of a tree and played a game where they had to stand where they thought the further most point of the roots grew to. We then asked them to gather 8 different leaves so bringing home to them the variety of trees in a small area. Finally we treated them to a tree climb involving all the appropriate ropes and safety equipment. It was great to see some young initially nervous faces turn to smiles as they overcame their worries to conquer something new.

The third Thursday saw “Treemendous Thursdays” run by the Vegetable Garden Dept and everyone got their hands dirty sowing seeds, planting and generally seeing how and what things can grow with the proper care. The following Thursday was labelled a “Bear Hunt” day. We did explain to the Events Team that bears might be in short supply and not particularly indigenous to the area! So as a group we concentrated on how to find the tell tale signs of animal activity. We tracked through the estate following indicators searching for wildlife that might well be found on at Sissinghurst. Not being able to rely on the real thing showing up at the right time we hid images of the animals (fox, badger, rabbit etc) and armed with binoculars they were searched for and spotted in turn. On discovery we briefly talked about the animal found and all chipped in something we knew about it.

Our final Thursday involved bushcraft and survival skills. We all had great fun in building shelters that were tested in turn (with the aid of a watering can) for its rain proof qualities. Let’s just say some got wetter than others! It all ended with learning how make a fire where sausages and marshmallows were cooked.

As a department we had great fun holding these days and if the children went away having learnt something then so much the better. It was time consuming to plan and set up as with most things done for a first time but will prove much easier second time around. With a few tweaks here and there it will be even better should we run it next year. So as you see it’s not all about cutting down trees and tractor driving with the Rangers. We all have a love of the outdoors and what goes on around us and equally love sharing that with young and old. Part of the job? Yes, Great fun to do? Most definitely!

Paul Freshwater – Ranger

PLANTS OF THE WEEK – Have a look at the tab at the top of this page to see what’s of interest in the garden NOW!  http://www.sissinghurstcastle.wordpress.com/plants-of-the-week/

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