If you go down to the woods at Loch Leven today you’re sure of many surprises, with a huge amount of fun and learning on offer for young woodland warriors
Crouching in a cosy den they’ve built out of branches, leaves and twigs, Poppy and Jonah Henderson are truly in their element.
They’re proudly sporting tiaras made of willow, wooden necklaces and huge grins – and they’ve barely noticed it’s raining.
The siblings are enjoying a taster Woodland Warriors session ahead of a week of fun events at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven, kicking off on Monday.
Under the watchful eye of visitor experience officer Alice O’Rourke – who is also a forest school leader – they’ve been learning the skills of forest survival.
“It’s about getting kids into the great outdoors and really connecting with nature,” explains Alice.
“It’s about giving them the confidence to explore independently and safely, and ultimately it’s the kids who decide what they want to do.
“They’ll learn bushcraft skills, get to know more about wildlife, and enjoy doing things like tying knots and making fires.”
Aimed at children aged 8- 12, it’s a totally parent-free zone.
It’s also very hands-on and interactive, as I discover when Poppy and Jonah help me to make my very own head dress out of strips of willow.
My attempt is not quite as good as theirs but it’ll do.
Next on the agenda, once they’ve spotted a swallow’s nest with a group of tiny baby birds’ heads poking out, is building a den.
“Find two trees that are reasonably close together and measure the distance between them,” suggests Alice.
Once the children have done this, they position a 6ft long stick in between.
This will form the frame, around which the den will take shape.
They then need to collect and lay sticks at angles against the frame, remembering to leave plenty of space for a door.
Jonah, 7, and Poppy, 9, zip round the forest in a frenzy, gathering twigs and sticks to make their home as cosy and rainproof as possible.
“Anything else you might want to make it comfortable?” asks Alice.
“What about some chairs?” Jonah pipes up, and within seconds a couple of tree stumps are duly installed.
No bushcraft experience would be complete without a fire-making session, and we all watch in awe as Alice instantly produces a flame on a cotton wool pad, using a fire steel.
The children struggle on for a bit until eventually they both manage to spark their own little blazes into life.
“Hooray!” cries Poppy.
Their reward? Toasting marshmallows. This, I have to say, is the highlight for me, despite the fact my sweet treats end up cremated.
During the sessions, the pair also learn how to track animals and meet some moths that have been humanely trapped and are ready for release.
There’s also scope to do a bit of pond dipping, camouflage their faces and try out other craft activities, such as making homes for wildlife.
Oh, and there’s a bit of tree climbing, too.
While children can spend a single day being woodland warriors, Alice recommends coming along for the whole week.
“Being outdoors and learning new skills is a great experience for them in so many ways,” she says.
“If they’re able to come for the whole week, they’ll be able to build on skills learned at the start and they’ll benefit hugely.
“We can take up to 20 kids each day with a group of forest leaders on hand at all times to support them.
“The days are great fun, starting at 10am and running until 3.30pm, with time for a packed lunch and breaks.
“The more days they can do the better, but even just one day will be a fantastic learning experience and a chance to make new friends.
“The main aim is to encourage young people to be happy, healthy and safe in the great outdoors.”
Woodland Warriors runs at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven from July 17 to 21, from 10am to 3.30pm each day.
Kids can attend the whole week or just a day or two. Fully qualified forest school leaders are on hand to teach kids the skills of forest survival.
Booking is essential. Bring a packed lunch and outdoor clothing.