By National Trust Ranger, Mark Wratten
It was a mixed weather report on the tv as I sat down to eat my breakfast whilst preparing my route to walk around the Rings at Badbury. The weather presenter said thunderstorms and heavy rain by lunchtime, so I packed my waterproofs with my lunch and hoped that the weather would be kind to us. Upon reaching Badbury Rings and running through the routes with Sarah and Dave, we all had different weather reports, so we just looked to the sky on the horizon which showed us blue skies. At that moment the first coach rolled in, with some very excited looking children ready for an adventure through time and a glimpse at the flora and fauna that make Badbury their home.
I am quite used to giving guided tours of Badbury and am very comfortable with how I present the tour to adults, but having very young children as my audience was a new challenge. I knew I had to bring the place alive with my passion for wildlife and plant life, and I hoped that the ‘usual suspects’ would show up so that the children could witness what I was describing. As we walked towards the first rampart, we started to talk about the first signs of spring and how particular yellow flowers are the first indication – a lovely large patch of yellow cowslips was just ahead of us, so I made a beeline for them.
I talked about the importance of grazing with cows and sheep to help spread these and other wildflower seeds. The children found it extremely funny when I explained that the cows have the most important job of all, eating the flowers seeds and pooping them out a bit further on where they will then rot down over the winter and germinate come springtime. I had got their attention with the cows’ poo, and this was a big win for keeping them engaged. Next, the sky erupted with the sounds of Skylarks above us, this was one of the ‘usual suspects’ that I was hoping for, along with a Kestrel (windhover) which decided to hunt right in front of us, which was absolutely spectacular and the children were in awe.
As we walked into the middle of Badbury rings I explained that it was like an amphitheatre when you sit in silence and listen to what is around you. We all sat there in silence for a good couple of minutes (I asked them for 30 seconds, but they were exceptionally well tuned in) and listened to all the birds around us singing from the trees. The birds were all very well identified by the children who truly put my knowledge to the test.
From there we headed out on to the eastern side of the rings so that they could see some of the first orchids to arrive, the aptly named Early Purple orchid. These had only just popped up the week before, which my boss Ellie had spotted whilst having a walk around – so I knew their location. I looked up to the skies once again and with no threats of rain on the horizon, after a nice long walk and a lot of questions along the way, we found the orchid patch. These were also surrounded by bluebells, so we talked about the importance of wildflowers and how our invertebrates need them to survive – and also the importance of not picking or damaging them in any way.
I was extremely impressed with the children’s knowledge of both history and wildlife, and it was me who walked away from this session feeling inspired from what I had learnt from all the children. Their passion and enthusiasm for what they came out to see was on a scale I don’t see as strongly when I walk around with adults.
One thing I took away from the visit was if this is the standard that these children have at this young age, then I know our planet will be in safe hands. Every school child that took part in Glow Badbury’s field trips, had the same understanding about protecting our planet, which is a huge testament to the schools, parents, family members and guardians. They should all be extremely proud of themselves for what the children believe in and stand up for. Thank you!