Like everyone, these past few months have been a bit challenging for our family, as we faced periods of self‐isolation and the second lockdown. Then December arrived, and the prospect of Christmas was something to look forward to! We usually reuse a homemade Advent Calendar with activities or surprises revealed each day. This year especially I didn’t want us to stay at home - even though the days were darker and colder - eating one chocolate a day without doing much else. We needed to get out and do some exciting activities to cheer us up!
For our Advent Calendar this year, I had the idea for my 3 year old son, Oscar, to reveal and complete "wild" activities every day, such as observing the birds, going on a bug hunt, planting bulbs etc. He loves going on "an adventure", so I wanted us to discover some interesting places, trees, wildlife and views in Portsmouth that we never noticed before.
I asked the Team Wilder community on Facebook for advice. I love being part of this community and looking at the nice pictures that local people share from their walks and what wildlife they have spotted. I asked them to suggest and describe a wild place around Portsmouth that they love, whether it is an unusual plant/tree in a street, a hidden pocket park, a great spot to observe wildlife in a nature reserve, a wild front garden, a nice place to observe the sunset, etc.
And.. within minutes of posting my request, there were so many responses! From suggesting to visit local nature reserves (Farlington Marshes, Titchfield Haven, Milton Locks) for bird watching, spotting white squirrels and woodpeckers in cemeteries and parks, finding the oldest tree in Portsmouth, or even collecting a painted pebble to hide near Tamsworth Park - the possibilities were endless. It was really exciting to read all these ideas and I could feel that people were very enthusiastic about describing the local places they love to visit.
Every day, Oscar told me “I want to close my eyes”, and I would put a piece of paper in the Advent Calendar pocket that he opened to discover which area we would explore after nursery or during a day off. Thanks to all the Team Wilder suggestions, we managed to go on several adventures together: We went for the first time in St James' Park and its lovely open field, wooden playground and glorious oak trees (“I like this forest!” he told me). We admired the sunset, sitting together on the bench on top of the hill above the peaceful Japanese garden. We discovered the hidden tree top walk at Hilsea Lines. We splashed in puddles on rainy days in the streets near our home. We found colourful shells on Southsea beach. We also combined our adventures with other activities organised by the HIWWT and local communities in December: As part of #WildWinterChallenge, Oscar learnt how to handle and use a litter picker and collected a decent bag of litter at Milton Locks.
And every day, when it gets dark, we go for an hour walk to spot the beautiful decorated windows who are part of the Southsea Advent Windows project.
Now with Tier 4 restrictions, it will be a bit more difficult to complete our Calendar and discover some exciting places further away from Portsmouth without cycling or walking. But, we are really looking forward to being able to explore the chalk pits in Paulsgrove, the green spaces near the Recycling Centre in port Solent, spotting birds in Hayling Island, or going for fossil hunting along the Jurassic Coast one day!
It was really exciting to read about where local people love to go around Portsmouth, and what they have spotted so far. It is a dense and crowded city, with air pollution and traffic issues, but nevertheless, there are so many hidden gems and pockets of nature that are ready to be discovered within a walking or cycling distance, and it was wonderful to acknowledge it.
Thank you so much to the Team Wilder community for your contributions, you made our December a bit wilder!
All the amazing suggestions made by the Team Wilder community can be read here.
Mathilde Chanvin lives in Portsmouth with her family. She's an active member of our Wilder Portsmouth project and is a volunteer with the Portsmouth and Southsea Wildlife Watch group.
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