Countryfile Magazine

REWILD YOUR FAMILY

Get close to nature and enjoy a summer spent outdoors with these fun mini-adventures

- Words: Georgie Duckworth Photos: Oliver Edwards

Go on a riverbank safari, cook over a campfire, put the kids in charge of navigation, build a den and sleep under the stars. Enjoy a summer outdoors with these fun family adventures.

“Listen for the churr of the grasshoppe­r and the distinctiv­e plop of a diving water vole”

It used to be the case that we didn’t have to go looking for ‘nature’. It was just there, all around. The summer days of childhood were spent outdoors exploring the wild – chasing butterflie­s, climbing trees and making mischief in the woods.

Those adventures are still there to be had, if you want to get out and find them. The UK contains a myriad of beautiful wild havens with woods, meadows and streams just waiting to be explored. And escapades in nature are not reserved for the countrysid­e. In urban areas, ponds, parks, canals and gardens offer just as much opportunit­y to uncover the secret world of wildlife.

Make this a summer of adventure. Whether you have children or grandchild­ren, nieces or nephews, have some fun and perhaps rediscover the child in you. Take to the water, set an ambush or simply sit and enjoy the sunset. Here are some mini-adventure ideas to inspire you to get out there and make the most of it.

1. SEEK OUT THE RIVERBANK’S SECRETS

Bustling with life, the meandering rivers and streams of the UK are a nature-lover’s dream. Dragonflie­s perch on favourite reeds; fish shimmer in the shallows; kingfisher­s zip past with a bolt of blue. Our rivers are beautiful, mysterious and exciting, and instil in children a sense of wonder and awe. It’s easy to uncover a river’s secrets if you know where to look.

Become a wildlife detective: Armed with a net, a bucket and a pair of wellies, take your kids on a quest to discover a magical world of river-dwellers. Every waterway has its own fantastic ecosystem. Minibeasts such as bloodworms and waterfleas might seem less glamorous compared to national treasures such as the heron, dipper and otter, but they all play their part and are equally fascinatin­g when viewed up close.

As a starting point, find a shallow stream to paddle and explore. Scoop a net carefully along the riverbed to investigat­e the minibeasts living beneath the surface. Lift submerged stones to discover what’s lurking beneath.

A magnifying glass can help you get a better view of any intricate creatures you find. Look for the sticklebac­k, a small, aggressive predatory fish with spikes up its spine; a whirligig beetle swimming in circles, or wonderful cased caddisfly larvae hiding in cocoon-like homes built from small leaves, twigs and stones. Stand still in the water for a while and see if you can catch a passing fish with your hands – quite the challenge.

Peer deep into the riverbank undergrowt­h and you may spy fish of all sizes lurking among the stems. Look for brown trout, with its distinctiv­e spots, the two big eyes of the common frog staring up from the water’s surface, and birds such as moorhens nesting in the bankside vegetation. Use your ears, too – listen for the churr of the grasshoppe­r and, if you’re very lucky, you may hear the distinctiv­e ‘plop’ of a diving water vole.

Many mammals use rivers, too, but prefer to hide from us humans. Fortunatel­y, they leave plenty of clues to their presence. Tracks in wet mud reveal who came to the water to drink – you could be on the trail of a badger, deer or fox. Otters leave droppings known as spraints, which help them find mates and defend their territory. Look closely at a spraint and you might see the remains of fishbones; have a sniff and you’ll note a distinctiv­e smell, just like jasmine tea. Peering at poo might not seem all that fun, but there’s a lot it can tell you.

Rivers are vital for so much life. Become a wildlife detective to learn all about it.

Adventure upstream: Miles of waterways criss-cross the UK, from trickling streams to great rivers. We tend to experience the water from above, looking down as we walk alongside it. But you can discover so much more by actually getting in. Wildlife tends to be less wary when you’re at its level, so immerse yourself – see what the ducks and otters see.

Streams are shallower during the dry summer months, so now is the perfect time to try navigating along one. As you wade in your wellies, feeling the rocks and stones beneath your feet, you may stumble across a secret waterfall or mysterious tunnel. Scramble along old fallen trees, duck under curtains of trailing ivy and explore abandoned, crumbling walls, long since forgotten and reclaimed by nature.

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 ??  ?? F Georgie and her family journey along abundant lanes in Chew Valley, Somerset, on the start of a new wildlife adventure
F Georgie and her family journey along abundant lanes in Chew Valley, Somerset, on the start of a new wildlife adventure
 ??  ?? G Wellies, a net and bucket are all you need to discover underwater worlds H What can you find beneath river rocks? I Max studies a dead fish found on the stream bed J Wade in to get the same viewpoint as the ducks
K Use a tray to identify your minibeast finds
G Wellies, a net and bucket are all you need to discover underwater worlds H What can you find beneath river rocks? I Max studies a dead fish found on the stream bed J Wade in to get the same viewpoint as the ducks K Use a tray to identify your minibeast finds
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