Our focus tree – Ash.
Story – Hole in a Tree
Ash the tree had grown in the forest all his long life. But there were lots of younger trees there now. They made Ash feel very old indeed.
‘Nobody cares about an old tree like me,’ he said. ‘I’m no use to anyone any more. I’ve got an old, knotty trunk, twisted branches and I have an ache in my fork,’ he sighed.
At the fork in his trunk, where two great branches met, rainwater had collected over the years. It soaked through the bark and made the wood soft and damp.
But some things in the forest liked old, damp wood. Fungus did and it started to grow in Ash’s old, aching fork. It sent little threads, like roots, down into the damp wood. ‘That tickles!’ said Ash. But as the fungus got bigger, the wood began to get softer and weaker.
‘Oh!’ said Ash. ‘I’m not sure I like this!’ It was hard to hold his heavy branch up.
Then, one wild and rainy night, there was a loud crack and the branch snapped right off. ‘Oh dear,’ said Ash. But at least the pain of holding up the heavy branch with soft, old wood was gone. Now there was just a great scar of bare wood and the beginnings of a hole.
The fungus kept growing and, as it grew, the wood became softer and started to rot. ‘No one is going to want a rotten old tree like me,’ sighed Ash.
But the beetles did. Beetles like nice, soft wood. ‘Over here!’ cried a beetle. ‘Is it soft? Is it damp?’ asked another. It was. The crumbling, damp wood was the perfect place to lay their eggs. When the young beetle grubs hatched, they ate the dead, damp wood, and made little tunnels as they burrowed through it.
Some birds saw the damp wood too. They knew that meant beetles. Very soon, the birds were pecking at the wood to get to the lovely, juicy, beetle grubs. ‘Oi!’ said Ash. ‘Stop it!’ But as the beetle grubs tunnelled and the birds pecked, the hole got bigger.
The beetle grubs turned into adults and flew away. Ash was all alone again. Over the years the rain fell. Beetles returned. Grubs tunnelled and birds pecked. The hole grew bigger. Ash got quite used to having a hole. He was never quite sure what would happen to it next.
One year, a female great tit spied the hollow. ‘That’s almost right for a nest,’ she said. She chipped out a few more bits of wood to make it a little bigger. ‘There. Perfect!’ She lined it with grass and moss and sheep’s wool and animal hair. Then she laid her seven eggs.
Ash was as excited as a tree could be waiting for the eggs to hatch. When they did, there were seven cheeping chicks snuggled in his hole. But by the end of the summer, the chicks had grown up and were gone. The hole was empty again and Ash was all alone once more.
Summer turned to autumn and the nights became colder. Ash felt a little fluttering deep inside. It was a little wren and it had found the hole. ‘Ooh,’ said the wren. ‘I must tell the others!’ So it did. That night, five or six wrens all huddled together in the hole. They kept each other dry and warm through the cold, dark night. And they slept there every night for the whole winter.
‘Perhaps I’m not so old and useless after all,’ said Ash happily. It was true. An old tree with a hole was very important in the forest. Think of all the creatures that needed it!
Journey to Base Camp.
On our way up to our base camp we looked at the trees on the forest edge and stopped under an Ash. The children picked the leaves. Some children counted 9 small leaves on the main stem and others counted 11. They had a look at the shadows the leaves made. We could see the ash keys up high in the tree. As we continued up to the base camp the children found 4 more ash trees.
The children decided that we would make a cocktail tea of all the plants we made tea with so far – dandelion, gorse, pine needle and nettle, but as we were walking along we passed a hawthorn tree in full flower. We hadn’t yet tasted hawthorn flower tea. They were happy to change the plan and make tea from it.
Nettle Picking Challenge.
The children are teaching each other how to pick a nettle without getting stung. Each week yet another child tries this out. Of course some get stung along the way but they wear their stings as a badge of honor. When someone does get a sting everyone rushes off to get a dock leaf for them. This would not have happened during the first few weeks.
This was their challenge-
Work in pairs or groups
- Give a time limit
- How tall can you make a tower?
- Sticks must be no longer that your arm. Everyone goes off to collect loads of sticks.
- Start building.
- If your tower is toppling you can go back to where it is strong and go again from there, or you can make a prop for it.
- Make a flag for the top, with flowers, leaves or feathers.
- Have an exhibition
The children were given cut up beech and ash leaves to put together.
When some children were finished they they created pictures by adding new plants to their leaf parts.
We finished with a sit spot in the long meadow grass. It is not easy to see any children in these photographs.
Exploring the Forest Edge
Collect leaves of different shapes and put in the transparent bags, no two leaves should be the same.
Lay out the bags of leaves. Barter with each other. The aim is to collect as many leaves as possible from the same tree.
Drawing – Exploring Leaf Shapes.
With everything we find new things to explore. Séamus found a very interesting beetle. Braiden decided to put it in our ‘I notice..’ book so he made a drawing as Séamus described the beetle to him.