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A Wild Day at Stoke Park – Preview by Steve England

Steve England looks ahead to A Wild Day at Stoke Park, which takes place on Monday 25th May.


A historic and diverse estate

Stoke Park has got an amazing history going back to the Bronze Age and I’ve been visiting the park for 46 years. Back then we weren’t allowed to play around here and people didn’t know much about the site as it was an NHS institution, but I remember it was a farmland full of corn fields with skylarks singing in the skies and it was packed with livestock.

Since the closure of the mental institution in 1997, not much has been done to the park, which is good, because the ecology has changed dramatically. Stoke Park is very rich in biodiversity and the wildlife is so dynamic and diverse – I once found 112 species of fungus in one calendar year!

To have the opportunity for Stoke Park to be used as an outdoor learning facility is something that really excites me because when I was younger here I was desperate to know things but there was never the opportunity to, so having this event with BNHC and lots of experts at hand will be amazing.


Why is the natural world important for young people?

Society has changed dramatically over the last twenty odd years. Technology has developed at such a rapid pace that natural play and getting hands on with nature is not as important to kids these days as it was when i was younger. I spent many hours getting covered in mud exploring puddles and streams, turning over dead animals to look at the leaches for example, it was very yucky but fun! No one told us to do it, it was natural instinct to learn more about our surroundings and the same instinct is still in every child today.

The difference being is that with the evolution of social media and what i call “junk computer games” has given rise to a tangible nature deficit amongst kids, so instead of getting out playing in the woods or muddy streams kids have the opportunity to sit and play games that are available at the tap of a button and this has had a very negative effect on children’s understanding of natural play and learning.

I often ask kids what tree does a conker come from and get a conker tree as a reply, an acorn comes from the acorn tree I’m always told too. I firmly believe that every child should have the opportunity to study wildlife in some capacity. If this is taken away then what will kids be like in 10 or 20 years’ time? Will the nature deficit increase and could it go beyond the stage of reversal?

Just as important as learning with nature is to encourage kids to have fun! If we don’t support and develop children’s curiosity of the natural world then how can we expect them to want to become a naturalist or a scientist or to go on and become the next Sir David Attenborough?

A child’s natural instinct is to want to play and explore with nature, it’s the same as a Salmon’s instinct to return to its spawning grounds. We must not get in its way and have to nurture and support these natural instincts for future generations.

It all starts here.


What’s happening on Monday?

Paul Gollege, the chairman of the Hawk and Owl Trust will be bringing along two very special feathered guests relevant to Stoke Park.

Stoke Park has a good quantity of Tawny Owls so I thought it would be a great idea if guests could see a real tawny owl up close, rather than just hear them twit-twooing at night. We’ll also be offering the chance to go on a woodland walk and find tawny owl pellets under one of their favourite trees. We’ll then return to the “woodland lab” and pull apart the pellets to see if we can, with the aid of identification charts, work out what the owls have been feeding on at Stoke Park.

A bird often seen hunting around the lower fields of Stoke Park is the Kestrel, so Paul will also bring one along so people can see it up close. Guests who come on the “walk on the wild side” with me at 2pm will also have the opportunity to find out how kestrel’s can fly so high and still catch a tiny mouse. We’ll learn about their vision and the things this bird can see that us humans cannot, which have helped to make this bird one of the top predators at Stoke Park.

Naturalist Richard Bland from the Bristol Naturalist Society will be here along with his colleague Tony Smith. Richard is an authority on trees and will be leading a “trees of Stoke Park” walk at 3pm, looking into some of the fascinating facts about our trees here.

Tony Smith is a bug expert and along with Mark Pajac from the Bristol Museum he’ll be running a mini BioBlitz in the grassy meadows. They’ll have a nature detective lab set up so guests can look under microscopes and see some of the creepy crawlies they have found up close. Last year a young girl aged 11 found a new species to Stoke Park, a tiny H-Web Spider.

There will also be the chance to have a go at making woodland beasties and creepy crawlies from clay in the woodland campsite and to make clay fairy faces on logs.

A Wild Day at Stoke Park takes place on Bank Holiday Monday, 25 May from 1.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m.