It was an extremely cold and frosty, but beautifully sunny day as myself and the Naturedays at Aigas education team headed out for an afternoon of seed collecting. Each year, Naturedays runs an outreach programme where the team heads out to Highland schools, nurseries and local green spaces to teach students and young people about the natural world they live in. This year’s programme focuses on human impacts on the natural world and how we can use nature’s solutions to solve the problems we are currently facing as a result of climate change. One activity included in this programme involves giving each group a handful of acorns that the students plant out and eventually grow into oak trees. Not only will the students be able to learn practical skills for planting and tree care, but they will be taught how planting trees is a natural tool for combating the effects of climate change – a topic that’s importance is escalating every day in our ever-changing world.
We had all wrapped up warm – hats, gloves and scarves a necessity on days like this! The low winter sun was burning through the crisp, orange leaves that still clung on to their branches, setting them alight with a golden glow. We headed right into the cluster of oaks, crunching through the frozen leaf litter carpeting the floor. After picking a tree each to look under, we began our foraging. At first, I thought it would be a simple task, but after examining the first patch of ground in front of me, I soon realised that the combination of tall, winding grass and layers of frozen, then damp leaves created quite a jungle to search through. Four different trees and about fifteen minutes later, I had only collected one very measly looking acorn and thought all hope was lost. I began to think most of the acorns may have been collected by much more efficient foragers such as red squirrels, jays, mice and badgers – and rightly so, acorns provide a much-needed food source for our local wildlife as winter approaches.
Almost giving up hope, I moved onto a final tree and there, right in front of me, cradled in the brittle leaves surrounding it was a large, plump, shiny acorn, glistening in the last of the afternoon light. After so much effort clawing through the debris on the floor, this acorn was almost mockingly perched on its leafy throne, displaying to any passer-by. After snatching it up and placing it into my practically empty tub, I continued looking in that area and low and behold, more acorns began to magically appear – jackpot! After just a few minutes searching under this particular tree I was satisfied with my pickings, being cautious not to collect too many acorns so enough were left for the wildlife that depend on them. The education team and I headed back to where we parked our vehicle, competitively comparing our findings along the way! Between us we had collected enough acorns to distribute amongst the schools and nurseries that will benefit from them directly but also provide an important topic of discussion in class and at home with their families. With the significance of this trip still at the back of our minds, we still had some time to do some litter picking before we headed back for a well-deserved hot cup of tea!