Monday, 15 December 2014

The Fish in the Forest

You never know where you’ll end up when you step into the storytelling circle in Hoe Fen. Last Tuesday I was transported into the cold depths of Russia – perhaps not such a shock since it was pretty cold already!

While in Russia I met farmer Oleg, who had made a very fortunate discovery...

Farmer Oleg finding treasure!

While digging he had found a chest of gold! But, rather than celebrating this wonderful news with his wife like most men would, he chose not to do so. Fearing her wagging tongue, he had to hide his find, otherwise the evil King Igor would come and claim the gold for himself. What could he do?! His wife Alyona had heard him trying to hide the treasure and had become suspicious.

Then Oleg came up with an ingenious plan. He went to the market and bought fish, cakes and sausages.

At the market he bought fish...


and sausages.

Returning to the forest, he laid the fish on the grass, hung the cakes from a tree and tied sausages from a fishing line. He then rushed home to tell his wife. His wife was amazed!

Fish swimming in the grass!

Then suddenly King Igor turned up at their door, demanding the gold he had heard was there. 

King Igor and his majestic cloak
Oleg’s poor confused wife told the King of the fish swimming in the grass, the sausages in the river and the cakes growing from the trees. It was clear to King Igor this woman was mad as a march hare. She’d clearly made up the story about the gold. King Igor left empty handed. 

But while many may have thought Oleg had outwitted his wife, she was no dizzy goose. Alyona had in fact pocketed some gold herself!

Then the scenes of Russia melted away and I was back in the storytelling circle. I was now in the company of the Home Educators’ drama group who had been putting on a performance of the play they were working on this term.

Chatting to the cast, everyone had loved taking part. Naomi's favourite part was using coconut shells to make the sound of King Igor galloping, while Billy loved his role as narrator. 

Billy and Ethan - the narrators of the tale
Farmer Oleg, played by Hadley, explained the use of Lego as currency to me –I’ll be holding onto the next long yellow piece of Lego I find as it’s worth 200 rupees! 

King Igor’s fabulous cloak had been made by Jo and Lotte from lovely autumnal leaves. Lotte, who played the not so ditsy wife, loved lighting her candle and getting to have the last line of the play!

Their director Jo says...

"The process of taking our Russian folktale (first told to them in the treehouse many weeks ago) and turning it into a play with props and costumes has been a real journey for our Home Ed group. For most of the children, it is their first foray into the world of drama, let alone performing outdoors, where the natural environment can create greater demands on projecting one's voice. (Hercules aircraft overhead, not withstanding!)

I was amazed at Ethan's natural ability for turning two thirds of the story into a script, which included him researching Russian Geography and canvassing the cast on which Russian names they liked best for their characters!

If you had asked 3 of the cast whether they would be in a performance when we first met in September, they would have run a mile! So what they achieved yesterday (albeit a work in progress) was amazing!"

The full cast were...

Narrators: Billy and Ethan
Farmer Oleg: Hadley
Farmer's wife, Alyona: Lotte
King Igor: Jem
Fishmonger Larisa: Naomi
Baker Alina: Esme
Butcher Marta: Penny
King's soldiers: Naomi and Esme

We hope the Home Educators will continue putting on fabulous performances. I look forward to where they'll take me next time!

Sophie Atkinson
Family Volunteering Project Co-ordinator and Community Engagement Assistant
Anglesey Abbey 

Photography © Sophie Atkinson 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Wicken Fen Ambassadors.....

This week was the first get together of people interested in our new volunteering role at Wicken - Ambassadors. 

This team will provide support for the rangers and the community team, when we have tasks on the fen which require a few extra pairs of hands. They can also help us by becoming familiar with areas of the fen and helping with regular tasks like fence checks and litter picks. I'm hoping they can also act as a positive voice in their local communities and help out at local fetes and fairs in the summer to share our work with people. 

The first get together involved doing some practical work on the Butterfly Trail to encourage more plants suitable for butterflies to grow in the summer. 

If you are interested in  the role - either the practical or community element please get in touch -

Lois Baker
Community Ranger
Wicken Fen

Monday, 8 December 2014

Cambridge students go behind the scenes

Students from the National Trust Society for Cambridge Students joined us in the house to find out more about the conservation work that goes on. Over the winter, the house closes to visitors, with the exception of conservation tours, so that each room can be cleaned and important conservation work can go on. 

This year, the Newmarket Corridor is getting a well-earned facelift, including re-plastering, painting and new textiles, while all the books in the library are getting cleaned. This is some task considering there are over 6,000 books in Lord Fairhaven's collection!

Delicate work!
The students got to see this work in action, then, after a spot of lunch, got to get stuck into some work themselves. They helped with cataloguing various items from the Domestic Wing which will be used in the property’s reminiscence loan boxes. These boxes will be loaned out to local carehomes and groups, acting as reminders of the past.

Any of these look familiar?

Rachel photographed each item while Felicia and Alice logged each with a description.
The group also tackled the task of cleaning the fireguard. The dirt was gone and replaced by a rather strong smell of autosol!! 

Rachel photographing a map from the 1960s

Felicia and Alice keeping a record of each item in the loan boxes

In just a few hours the team had achieved masses. What a perfect example of micro-volunteering in action. Thanks National Trust Society – you have been a great help. Hope to see a lot of you again soon!

Sophie Atkinson
Family Volunteering Project Co-ordinator and Community Engagement Assistant
Anglesey Abbey

Photography © Kate Boursnell

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Learning to look more closely

One of the (many) delights of volunteering with the Community Team at Anglesey is getting to know so many different people and learning from them. The other day, I spent a couple of hours in Hoe Fen with the Green Team, a small group of learning disabled young adults.

I thought I knew my way around Hoe Fen, and, though it held many wonderful things, it didn't hold any surprises. I'd always considered myself to be reasonably observant. On a family walk, it would be me who would spot the circling buzzard, the fuzzy caterpillar and the first bluebell.

Wrong and wrong!

Walking through Hoe Fen with the Andy, Terry and the Green Team was a real eye opener. Everywhere they looked, they spotted things worth seeing that I would simply have passed by. From minute fungi to the tell tale signs of a sparrowhawk kill, from rabbit tracks to tiny snails, nothing seemed to escape their experts' eyes.

Andy explained to me why they emphasise observation: "If you educate people to be observant, that has many benefits. It's all very well teaching people about health and safety, but if they don't know how to look, you're wasting your time.

I think encouraging the guys to look carefully, has an impact on how they observe and interact with people. It helps with teaching tolerance and understanding, something that people on the autistic spectrum can struggle with. Also they enjoy it, it's good to come to a place and observe it closely so you can see how it changes."

As we walked through the Fen, Green Team member Seb photographed leaves, fungi, berries and bark with the team's excellent camera. Next time, it will be someone else's turn to record the day's finds. "They've all learnt how to use the camera, and being in charge of taking photos for the day is a big thing, it helps them feel special. We use the photos as part of our record of what we've done and seen, and display them on a whiteboard for everyone to see."

As an example of the sort of close observation I'm talking about, Terry showed me a speckling of dust caught in a spider's web: "It shows us that there's a wood boring insect at work nearby."

I lost count of the fungi that they pointed out to me, all with intriguing names: false chanterelle, stagshorn, white jelly, shiny ink cap ….all beautiful in their own way when you look closely enough. 

I managed a photo of this tiny coloured stagshorn fungus on a tree stump.

The wooden path in the secret garden is the perfect habitat for
ink caps:

And the spotty leopard slug in this shot is obvious, but can
you spot the tiny snail?

The Green Team spend up to 3 days a week working outdoors, building their skills and confidence. They help manage willow plantations at Hinchingbrooke and Waterbeach, have made willow sculptures (including a mammoth) for Paxton Pits nature reserve and a wildlife garden. At Anglesey Abbey, they've been making artworks with Maddie Geddes-Barton, who writes about them here. The Green Team also help the Anglesey gardeners to maintain Hoe Fen for visitors and for wildlife, by clearing ditches, dismantling dens, and repairing the wood walls. 

By the time our two hour ramble was over, I'd got a definite sense that the Team know the Fen more intimately than I have ever done, and maybe ever will. By learning to look carefully, watch out for changes and by working with the materials they encounter there, they seem to have almost built a rapport with it, if that is possible of a place. To me, I certainly felt that they feel very much at home in the Fen.

And I feel that my morning with them made me think about how much the natural world, and those who know and understand it well, can teach us - and how much more there always is to find out.

Kate Boursnell
Volunteer Community Reporter
Anglesey Abbey