Walk on the wild side

Posted on April 26th, 2015

Back in January I shared my plans to create a wildlife trail here at Coombe Mill. I had bought the animals for the trail and had in my mind to develop a fun map giving guided clues. Turning the idea from a plan into a usable trail turned out to be a more involved project than I had anticipated but the finished results have exceeded my expectations and it has passed the ultimate test in that I see new guests out following the trail every week.


The New Wildlife Trail


The first obstacle was creating a map which looked fun but was also detailed and usable enough to follow. By using Google maps as a template for scale and perspective we simplified the detail and made it colourful and eye-catching.  It soon became apparent that the fields required names, however many of the animals rotated fields during the year so stating “walk through the sheep field” could be leading the user on the ultimate wild goose chase! The only answer was to label the fields with memorable and permanent names and have Farmer Nick carve and fix the plaques on the gates.


Field Name Signs


With the fields marked up we created our route which lasts just over a kilometre, this is an ideal length for young children and a good challenge for toddlers. Securing the wildlife into place became the next challenge, we used some special expanding wood and resin glue which I had my doubts about but Nick looked confident it would work. On the face of it Nick was right, but it didn’t take much, in fact a quick cuddle of our wooden rabbit on a test run with The Boy and Me revealed the glue was never going to do the job. The next day Nick decided to use stronger glue only to find the rabbit had actually been stolen, with no trace of it anywhere. This was a real shock and having bought a new rabbit Nick took the job more seriously and, drilled, screwed and nailed everything into place. Nothing was going to be moving now!



Animals around the Wildlife Trail


Meanwhile Amber and I in the office were working to perfect the trail sheets and create the clues that would lead explorers around our trail introducing the 14 animals. We did plenty of trial runs on my triplets to see if the clues were too difficult to understand before designing the sheet and presenting it in a fun way with footsteps and colourful bubbles.


Wildlife Trail Clues


On the reverse we printed our newly designed map with fresh field names and tick boxes for each animal found. 


 Wildlife Trail Ticklist and Map


Then the problem dawned for our hopeful trail users of how to make the sheets of paper more substantial for carrying round the farm. I’d always wanted a laminator and this seemed the perfect time to buy one. With the new laminator we were able to print the map and bubble clues back to back, laminate them for strength and durability and place a few in reception in a DIY stand ready to be used, returned and reused.


Wildlife Trail Reception Box


There is also an audio guide to the wildlife trail on the Coombe Mill website which can be downloaded and replayed on a smart phone along the walk instead of the laminate cards.



Finally we added specially designed signs to reassure trail walkers of the route.  These are located at all major decision making points with helpful guiding arrows, another use for the new laminator together with a borrow of Farmer Nick’s trusty staple gun.  


Wildlife Trail Arrows Around the Farm

The finished Wildlife trail has all come such a long way from my initial ideas and taken a huge amount of effort to make it feel truly usable and fun, but when I see family groups out on the farm chatting over their laminated clues I know it has all been worth it.


Taking part in the wildlife trail


The wildlife trail is just one part of the Wild Adventures activities here on the farm. this is a growing area for Coombe Mill and I have plenty more ideas still to come such as a mud kitchen, nature music area, barefoot walk, pond dipping platform and a bug hotel. I hope to be back to share at least one of these here on the blog this summer.