The cold weather is going, and spring is on the way. Time to get outdoors to look at the natural world! This is an activity that Eynsham Beaver Scouts are doing this half term to encourage outdoor exercise. But if you'd like to do it too, then be our guest.
Go for a walk or two to see whether you can find these things – or something else just as awesome!
1) Lichens - the oldest, toughest team
‘Lichen’ rhymes with ‘hiking’ (not ‘kitchen’, though it looks like it should). You’re far more likely to find these amazing life forms while out hiking, of course. Look on gates and fences, old stones, or tree branches. Lichens look like a plant, but really they’re a team of a fungus and an alga (a tiny green plant). The alga can make food out of air and water, like all green plants. This feeds the lichen. The fungus grows around it and gives it a home. But the fungus can also dig into wood or stone to get other things the lichen needs, and which bigger plants get from the soil. Very, very long ago, lichens were some of the first creatures to come to live on the land. It was a world of rock and sand, and the lichens helped turn some of that into soil.
Lichens are pretty tough, but they don’t like air pollution very much. So you can tell how dirty the air is somewhere from the kinds of lichens that can grow there.
Some more about lichens.
2) Birds singing
Some birds sing all year round. In winter you can hear robins and wrens. Other birds start to sing in spring. They do it to tell other birds that this bit of land is theirs, and to find a mate. You may now be able to hear blackbirds singing. And you can often see them too, because they sit somewhere high up while they do it. Look on chimneys and TV aerials as well as in trees!
Some more about bird song
3) Flowers coming up from bulbs
Flowers like snowdrops are some of the first we see in spring. Look in gardens and along hedgerows. These plants can get an early start because they grow from bulbs underground - little lumps like onions in which they’ve stored energy from last year.
Catkins are another type of flower we can see early in spring. But they don’t look like snowdrops! Many of our trees make them – willow and alder catkins will be coming out now, and other trees will make catkins later in the year. Catkins are ‘male’ or ‘female’. Pollen comes out of the male ones and blows away on the wind. When it sticks to a female catkin, the tree can make a seed.
Some more about catkins.
5) Find an ash tree
It’s harder to identify a lot of our British trees when they don’t have their leaves. But it’s easier to tell you’re looking at an ash tree! Look for last year’s seeds (called ‘keys’) that are still hanging on the tree, and for the black buds at the end of twigs.
Ash trees often grow along hedges and along country lanes. And of course you often see them in woods.
Some more about ash trees. And some help with identification.
Be safe and responsible
It probably goes without saying, but keep yourself, everyone else and the environment safe as you are out and about. That includes following the current Coronavirus rules, and the Countryside Code.