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Family Farms

A nature spring guide for families – where to go locally and what to look out for

By | Education, environment, Family Farms, fun for children, Green, play, Playing, Relationships, Sprintime, Summer, Uncategorized
by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham
Fine Feather Press

Grab your coat, your wellies if it is raining, your family and perhaps a picnic, for the dark days of winter have passed and the spring we have all been waiting for is here. These are a few suggestions, COVID restrictions allowing, for where families can go to enjoy some particularly wonderful spring sights across both Sussex and Surrey, but if there is one thing that our confined lives have taught us, it is that we don’t have to go far or even anywhere further than our doorstep to enjoy the natural world.

Spring flowers
Sussex and Surrey have an abundance of woodlands – here the flowers appear early in the year when the ground has warmed up and it is light. Once the leaves on the trees have come out, the woods become too shady for most flowers to grow. Plants that take full advantage of the brighter spring conditions include wood anemones, bluebells, primroses, common dog-violets and lesser celandines. Of all these, perhaps the bluebell puts on the most impressive display, for few wild flowers cover the ground so completely or smell as sweet. Chinthurst Hill near Wonersh, Brede Hill near Battle, Heaven Farm near Uckfield and Angmering Woods near Arundel, all put on annual bluebell spectaculars along with a medley of other spring flowers.

Orchids have a captivating appeal for many people and to discover one is thrilling. Ditchling Beacon and Malling Down are excellent places to search for them. Look out now for the early purple orchid – its clusters of flowers, long spotted leaves and unpleasant smell help to identify it – and come back in the summer for more orchid spotting.

The prospect of free food is always appealing, and a great family springtime activity is foraging. This is the season of ramsons, otherwise known as wild garlic. The young leaves make deliciously pungent soups, salads and pesto and the flowers, seed pods and bulbs are all edible too. The Downs Link path which runs for 37 miles from Guildford to Shoreham provides a great day out for families on bikes or on foot. Here wild garlic grows in abundance but for other sites, there is a fantastic website called www.fallingfruit.org
with an interactive map showing you sources of food growing on common land.

Trees and hedgerows
When winter shows no other sign of ending, along comes the blossom from trees such as blackthorn followed by wild cherry, crab apple, rowan and hawthorn. Every lane puts on its own frothy display for us to enjoy. Get to know where local elder bushes grow, for there is nothing so simple as making elderflower cordial. Another foraging find (maybe not for the children) are the youngest, freshest beech leaves which can be used in salads or soaked in gin. Beech trees are a feature of most of our deciduous woodlands but the ones at Staffhurst Woods near Oxted and Ashdown Forest are particularly fine.

Insects
Early in the year, insects emerging from hibernation are desperate for food. Queen bumblebees fly between early nectar sources such as cowslips, red dead-nettles and lesser celandines as do early butterflies such as brimstones and orange-tips feeding on cuckooflowers, honesty and garlic mustard. Surrey and Sussex are rich in places to see butterflies, but particularly good locations include Box Hill, Denbies Hillside, The Devil’s Dyke, Newtimber Hill, Rowland Wood and Pewley Down.

Birds
There is no better season for listening to bird song and often the adventures begin by simply opening a window! Every habitat has its own star performers with some having flown vast distances to be with us. If you want to hear some outstanding virtuosos then head to heathlands such as Chobham, Pirbright, and Iping and Stedham Commons. Here you may hear (if not see) buzzy Dartford warblers, melodious willow warblers or perhaps a chirring nightjar or two. Even more discrete than these birds are the nightingale – its drab, brown colouring making it almost impossible to spot in the dense undergrowth it inhabits. Its song, though, is unmistakable and the male sings both day and night until it finds a mate. Make your way to Ebenhoe Common, Pulborough Brooks and Puttenham Common for an unforgettable auditory experience. Make a note of International Dawn Chorus Day which is on Sunday 2nd May this year. Events are usually planned by a range of local wildlife groups.

Reptiles and amphibians
On sunny spring days, the coconut-sweet smell of gorse fills the air and reptiles such as lizards and adders like to bask in the sun. A stroll on Thursley Common’s boardwalks usually reveals some reptilian activity but if none materialise there is usually plenty of other wildlife to watch such as dragonflies and damselflies along with carnivorous plants and cuckoos.

For more information
The best way to find out more about these and other nature hotspots across the counties is to contact our wonderful wildlife charities. Most of these have local branches and are bursting with ideas for family activities and places to explore. Among these are Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT).

This is merely a quick canter through a handful of experiences on offer outside in Surrey and Sussex this spring. We apologise for all the obvious ones we’ve missed out. We’d love to hear about the ones you cherish and are willing to share on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/FineFeatherPress) and on Twitter (@NatureActivity).

Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham run natural-history publisher Fine Feather Press from their homes in Surrey and East Sussex.
Their latest title – The Little Book of Wild Flowers – is now out.

Nurture through nature Every day is a school day!

By | children's health, Education, environment, family, Family Farms, fun for children, Green

This spring, Nicola Henderson, CEO of Godstone Farm in Surrey, explores the learning opportunities that are on the doorstep for many of us, and the adaptations we can make in everyday life if we don’t want to be stuck to a timetable or even use an exercise book.

As we’ve seen over the past year, learning is not just about being in the classroom; and who would have known that our children’s education could take so many forms and be delivered in so many ways. Cue the cries of parents saying they never thought they would actually have to BE the teacher! Perhaps unconventional ways of learning are here to stay, but above all we have realised that being outdoors is good for us on so many levels.

Homework doesn’t have to be at your home!
How about learning about another little creature’s home? There are so many habitats in the great outdoors and not all of them are deep in the countryside. From birds in their nests, to hiding hedgehogs and mice in hedgerows it’s great to get children to spot where animals might be living. Now that hopefully, the weather starts to improve, there’s opportunity to sit out at dawn and dusk to watch where birds fly to or see if you can spot a tiny nose poking out among leaves. A simple game of matching animals to their habitats can be done wherever you live, as even in more urban areas it’s not impossible to find a brave fox. What could he be looking for? And where do you think he might go to sleep?

Changing of the seasons
It’s not just signs of animal life to look out for. Spring brings about the most wonderful chance to see colour and shape appear by way of plants and flowers. Can children notice not only what is newly appearing as we start to see more sunny days, but also which plants or trees remained the same through winter? It is likely they know what a Christmas tree looks like, but which other trees can they spot that kept their leaves? As well as noting names, playing games such as finding shapes they know in nature around them can be heaps of fun.

Keep active and keep healthy
Even the youngest of children know that exercise and eating well is the key to being healthy, but it’s clear from all the farm visitors each year that kids ‘just wanna have fun’! Playing is a fantastic form of exercise and if it’s outside then all the better. Play equipment is a brilliant way to teach children boundaries, risk taking, and sharing with their friends or being patient to wait in line for their turn. Open outdoor spaces can also lend themselves well to imaginative play. With or without apparatus, children will find a story to become part of. Reading is such a huge part of a child’s first school experience, but as they develop their skills its fun to get them re-telling a story and answering questions about what happened, or predicting what might happen next. When you are out for a walk, at a playground or visiting somewhere with gardens what stories can you make up about what you can see? Can you
re-tell it when you get home?

Farm fun
We just can’t forget the wonderful signs of new life that can be found at farms at this time of year. Chicks hatching, lambs being born and baby rabbits ready to hop into the sunshine. A farm attraction is a great place to see these exciting babies but also learn about the differences between species, what they eat and how they are kept. Many attractions also offer a behind the scenes experience where children can get up close and hands on with their favourite pets or livestock. Actually taking part is a great way to commit a skill to memory and who doesn’t want to learn to muck out the stinky pigs? Other, less smelly jobs are available!

There’s so much to be fortunate for as we enter the favourite season for so many. Springtime on the farm or anywhere amongst nature is a wonderful time, and sharing experiences with your children is precious. Its hoped that the majority of learning can stay in school with our wonderful and very valued teachers, but it’s nice to be able to extend this beyond the classroom, keep it fun and increase our wellbeing at the same time.

Nicola has run Godstone Farm for three years now, and whilst there are plans to develop the experiences and facilities on offer, she is keen to ensure the farm keeps its heritage and wholesome feel. The Farm continues to follow government guidance so its always best to check the website before visiting for the most up-to-date information.
www.godstonefarm.co.uk

The winter staycation

By | Education, environment, family, Family Farms, fun for children, Party, Playing

If it’s not possible to escape the colder months here in the UK and jet off to sunnier climes this year, then we might all just need to be a bit more creative in order to make sure we can still enjoy the great outdoors.

Summer staycations have been pretty popular this year, and no doubt some people were probably found moaning about it being too hot, but soon enough we will be longing for warm weather and sunshine again.

“There’s no need to wait for a warm, or even dry day to plan a family trip out” says Nicola Henderson, who is a mother of three and runs family farm, Godstone Farm, in Surrey.

Here are her top tips for day trips to help get you outdoors whatever the weather:
Book online
With reduced capacities to ensure social distancing most venues will ask you to book in advance, and why risk not getting in with excited children in the back seat? Many attractions may offer their best price if you book in advance via their website and often more savings can be made the further ahead you book. That all important booking confirmation is also a valuable chance for the attraction you are visiting to communicate important information to you; in uncertain times its best to get the low-down before you arrive.

Use the website for all important information
Most venues will now have information on their site about their ‘Covid Secure’ measures and any information you need to know. But, let’s not forget the fun stuff – the website will give you all the details of what’s open and what’s on, plus check out the blog and any latest posts on social media. This day out might be a special treat, so show the children pictures and read content to them, even play a quiz in the car about what they think they might see and do. You might not be going on holiday, but you can still escape for a bit!

Arrive early
Let’s face it, the children aren’t likely to give you a lie in on your staycation so make the most of the day. Arriving early means getting the car parking space closer to the entrance (important in bad weather!) and also being first in line for things that might get busier during the day. Whether it’s the front of the queue for a ride, or the first to cuddle a cute bunny it’s always good to beat the crowds, especially on weekends and holidays. Check out opening times before you visit – some attractions have started opening earlier than usual – this seems a popular idea, especially when toddlers get tired and need an afternoon snooze.

Leave the picnic at home
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, hear the cries of parents up and down the land who are plain bored of making a picnic. All those lockdown walks where daily exercise meant packing up a hamper, going to the green space close by and trying to entertain the children while keeping in line with government guidance. Nicola adds “Certainly with my family, when lots of places were still closed there was an endless snack-packing exercise to go out to the local park.” Secondly, if you are able to support your local business, or small attraction in the area by making a purchase when you are there, then do. Of course, picnics are still fine if that’s what you prefer.

We love wellies!
It’s a fact! Remember that blistering heatwave? Yep, there were still those children that want to wear wellies, and hey, you’re only a child once so why not. If it is raining however, why not make extra fun on your day and do a bit of puddle jumping? If the children are dressed for it, then it makes bad weather into a real positive and provides endless fun. There’s puddle jumping competitions wherever you go in the rain, because you just make them yourself, or even try the puddle jumping Olympics! The only rule is that parents must join in too.

Wherever you go, whether it’s a staycation away from home or day trips out nothing beats the outdoors and the benefits we all know it can bring.

Godstone Farm will continue to provide fun whatever the weather, but it’s always worth checking the website for up to date opening days and times. They have some exciting plans for 2021 including a Day Nursery and Pre-School planned to open in early 2021. www.godstonefarm.co.uk

There’s no such thing as bad weather…

By | Education, environment, family, Family Farms, Playing, Uncategorized

There’s no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothes, or so the saying goes…

It also helps to be well planned when you have little ones still needing to burn off steam and be kept occupied. So it’s no wonder that farm parks across the UK are growing in popularity with over 250 members of the National Farm Attractions Network (NFAN) setting the standard in good quality places for families to visit.

Nicola Henderson, CEO of the popular children’s attraction Godstone Farm in Surrey agrees the winter months can be a challenge. But with nearly 20 years of experience in running family attractions and as a mum of three herself, she shares her three nifty tips with ABC Magazine on innovative ways to get outdoors in the winter.

1 Seek out the animals who love the cold weather! You’ll find many types of animals in a farm park, especially those who just love the winter months. Highland cows are a great example of a hardy breed and they look pretty impressive even if a bit wet and bedraggled! Many of the farm attractions now have interesting ways to feed some of the animals yourselves, plus opportunities to book in for exclusive experiences – we have introduced a Mini Farmer experience and it has been a huge hit.

2 Soft play is not just somewhere to dry off, it helps little ones learn through imaginative role-play. The brightly coloured and physically challenging play areas at many children’s attractions are a familiar feature today thanks to the understanding we have for learning through play within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Many soft play areas offer further stimulation for little one’s imaginations with indoor play areas where they can pretend to be a vet, work in a café or as part of a construction team. It’s a delight to see parents getting involved in the role-play too – encouraging bonding and learning even further.

3 Get hands-on with the animals. Being part of NFAN means that farms adhere to a strict code of practice for cleanliness and hygiene; parents can be reassured that they will find excellent hand washing facilities and protocols in place at farms with this accreditation. It brings absolute delight to their little faces when children get the chance to hold a rabbit, groom a guinea pig or see a newly hatched chick. These sensory experiences are so important and provide the perfect balance of fun and education and many farm parks have dedicated spaces, allowing these activities to carry on all year round.

Nicola adds: “Our farm is home to over 500 animals so there’s so much to do in the winter for families. I love having the chance to chat to the visiting children about the sheep in their woolly coats or encouraging them to pretend to be goats who keep active by climbing and jumping! As part of our 40th birthday celebrations we’ve been living by our moto of: Explore, Discover. Play. We have a large indoor playbarn with a dedicated toddler area, plus Wiglet’s Play Village – an indoor role-play centre with a ball play zone and a baby area. Meaning there’s wholesome farm fun to be had all year round.”

Godstone Farm is open all year round, and a NEW Winter Pass has just been launched! Engineer your own fun this winter with our new pass, perfect for keeping the family entertained come rain or shine – and even snow!
www.godstonefarm.co.uk