The Park offers adventures and interests to all ages. Grass stretches wide, flat and sloping, for all sorts of games and activities. There is an excellent playground with a pleasant sand-pit; a boating pond - for most of the year; miriad birds - land and water based and of course the squirrels and deer. For other fun and learning there is the adjacent National Maritime Museum with its special galleries for young visitors and, for older children, the Observatory. Within the yearly programme of activities and events in the Park are several specifically for children. The Wildlife Centre and associated Nature Trail stimulate young children's interest. The interactive theatre project "Living History", played with actors, attracts pupils studying Key Stage 2 from local schools.
The Wildlife Centre
The Wildlife Centre (WC) is the hub for wildlife activities in the Park. The inner room has a wonderful mural covering the entire wall and featuring all the wildlife to be found in the park. It is beautifully executed and was achieved by projecting a woodland scene onto the wall and then painting the resulting shapes. The stag is life size, though there have been comments that the robin appears to be the size of a chicken!
It is open to the public on the last Saturday of each month, when it offers a range of activities (depending on the season) connected to the Park’s wildlife. Though there is much to interest adults, many activities are specifically aimed at children.
The WC backs into one end of the Deer Park and one-way glass enable the herds of deer to be seen at very close quarters. They don’t always come round to this section of the Wilderness, but when they do, they may be right up against the glass, and this is the closest you can get to a deer within the Park.
To tie in with this, we have a collection of antlers, obtained when they are cast in April and May. A large antler is very heavy and children have the opportunity to handle them, feel the weight and the see the bony interior. We have antlers from red deer and also the palmated antlers of the fallow deer, plus an example of an antler covered in ‘velvet’ from the period when the antler was still growing and needed a blood supply.
You won’t often see a fox ambling through the Park. They come out once the Park is closed. However, in the seclusion of the Deer Park, they can be seen feeding, resting drinking from the water trough and just passing through. Again the one-way glass means that children can inspect close-up an animal that is quite unaware of the human presence.
We have fact sheets on foxes and are able to answer questions about their life cycle. Younger visitors enjoy colouring in a fox mask (often with very imaginative colour schemes).
For many years we have set up bird feeders in front of our windows and the viewing is wonderful. However the stags seem to regard them as a personal challenge and they end up mangled and on the ground. Nevertheless, the water trough, the muddy seepage puddle nearby, and adjacent branches, also attract birds and the viewing can be excellent.
We have many lovely bird posters in the centre to aid identification.
However, it is not just recognising birds by sight that is important, but being able to identify their song. To this end, we have a fine selection of the RSPB’s singing birds.
We also have posters showing the feeding habits of different species in the wild and an excellent collection of bird feeders to show how they suit different situations.
We have a number of old abandoned nests, brought in by members of the group. It is interesting to see the different constructions and to marvel at what can be achieved with beaks and claws.
In Autumn we have materials for making apple bird feeders, which the children can take home with them.
We have a Special Saturday Opening of the WC to tie in with the RSPB’s Feed the Birds Day in October.
For many years we have helped to distribute the leaflets for the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch and have encouraged families to take part, since an early interest in birds can lead to a lifelong involvement.
Moths and Butterflies
The Royal Parks funded a mercury vapour lamp, thus enabling the Wildlife group to do overnight moth trappings. This happens from time to time throughout the year and will be featured in the Newsletter and on this website. The traps are opened on the Saturday mornings, thus making it possible for everyone to attend and it is certainly something that might interest a child of seven or over.
We also have a fine new display cabinet of moths and butterflies such as might be seen in the Park enabling visitors to look closely at their beauty which is hard to achieve otherwise.
At all of the drop-ins, we have drawing, jigsaws and games on a wildlife theme and aimed at different age groups. These vary from month to month and we aim to be seasonal or topical.
The Nature Trail and Deer Hide
The inner room of the WC opens onto the Nature Trail which is an undisturbed area stretching out into the centre of the deer park. This is a haven for wildlife since the public are excluded for most of the time. Wildlife Group members keep the many feeders filled and the Park managers have created many natural habitats, log piles, and stag beetle loggeries. There are signs illustrating all British flora and fauna and many nesting boxes.
The trail can be visited on drop-in days, when small groups are taken round by trained guides. The paths are suitable for buggies but children on foot have to be well supervised by their accompanying adult as the area is a nature reserve and more rugged than the main park. Two and three year olds might find it somewhat restricting.
In this Section of the park old trees with fungal rot have most of their branches removed so that they offer little wind resistance and so they can safely be left to decay slowly, in the process providing a wonderful food source for whole ecosystems.
The Friends have recently provided the funding for the creation of a pond in this area. This had been held up for two years whilst knot weed was being eradicated.
At the furthest point of the trail sits the Deer Hide with views deep into the Wilderness.
This is also used a teaching resource for visiting education groups.