A Springwatch family adventure
PUBLISHED: 11:47 09 June 2015 | UPDATED: 11:47 09 June 2015
There's a number of reasons why you should visit RSPB Minsmere this month. Kate Blincoe lists just some of the ways it's 'less boring' than sitting in front of the television.
I grew up with the ironically titled TV show ‘Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set And Go Out And Do Something Less Boring Instead?’ I often did. My lifestyle was very free-range, and television was an occasional wind down, not an all afternoon marathon.
Today, on-demand programmes and addictive tablet computers make it hard to switch off the screens. However, there is one TV show that is guilt free. I love my family watching Springwatch.
It brings you the intimate stories of vulnerable chicks and cute baby deer, with both heart stopping peril and all the thrills and spills of a cartoon. Rather than showing us inaccessible, exotic creatures, the beauty of Springwatch is that entices you to go outside and see British wildlife for yourself.
We are lucky enough to have the home of Springwatch, the stunning RSPB Minsmere nature reserve, within easy reach on the Suffolk Coast. In past years, I regularly visited Minsmere. I used to stomp for miles in the beautiful wilderness, subsisting on only a flapjack and if it rained, so what? But now I have children.
Suddenly, life is structured around nap times and feeds and we need so much more from a venue; nappy changing stations, places to run around and family friendly food to name just a few essentials. No wonder it seemed easier to visit a Country Park or play-farm where these things were guaranteed. Springwatch, however, has reawakened my desire to ‘do something less boring instead’. Luckily, these days, Minsmere is the best nature reserve for families that I’ve ever visited.
Let’s get the preliminary parent pleasers out of the way first; walking distance from carpark to toilets – minimal. Baby-changing facilities – check. Push chair accessible paths – check. Welcoming atmosphere – check. Family friendly, locally sourced food – check again! You don’t need to take kit with you either, an Explorer Backpack containing bug pot, binoculars and activity sheets can be hired.
Once you know the basics are in place, you can relax and have fun with your children. Just a short walk from reception is the Discovery Zone - the perfect place to start your visit. This nature themed play area is full of activities that link to the rest of the reserve and offer you the perspective of different creatures.
The child-size tunnels show you what it is like to be a sand martin, nesting in a sandy cliff, and the migration maze will get you thinking about the challenges that migrating birds face. You’ll all climb, balance, wiggle and jump, getting active and finding out where you want to go next on the reserve.
After being sand martins in the tunnels, we wanted to see them for real. The martins nest very conveniently just next to the café, and an RSPB volunteer had set up a telescope so we could see them up close, popping in and out of their burrows.
We were right next to a pond dipping area, so we peered in the water next. The children watched a dragonfly nymph crawl up reed to break out of its skin and become a stunning jewel coloured dragonfly.
In the Wild Wood you can look for minibeasts and build dens. Experiencing nature in a hands-on way like this – getting mucky hands, learning to gently coax a woodlouse into the bug pot and then looking closely at what you have found, teaches children so much, without them even realising.
There was so much to do in a day – we’ll definitely be back for more. Seeing Minsmere for yourself makes watching it on the telly so much more special and meaningful. Don’t just be a Sofa Springwatcher – get out there for real! n
We are looking for enthusiastic volunteers with a ready smile and a passion for wildlife, who can help visitors get the most out of their visit to Minsmere throughout the summer. You don’t need to be a bird or wildlife expert, just keen to learn, as all necessary training will be provided. Volunteers are required to commit to working a minimum of five days between now and August 31. Find out more by visiting www.rspb.org.uk/volunteering.
For an application pack, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01728 648281.