Tag Archives: Learning Outside The Classroom

Signs of Animals in the Snow

Winter time is great for tracking animals, not only does it provide an interesting activity when the higher summits can be somewhat inaccessible, it also happens to be the time when animal tracks are easiest to spot and follow.

Animals such as birds and some amphibians draw a fair amount of attention to themselves so it's easy to know when they're around. Mammals, on the other hand, are secretive and silent for most of the year. Fortunately, they leave the most definite signs of passage.

Read on to find out more about animal tracks!

The first thing to deal with is some basic tracking terminology that will help to explain and highlight certain things later down the line. 

 

A 'Track' is an impression left in soft ground, or snow.

A collection of tracks, as well as accessory marks such as tail or body drag,  becomes a 'Trail'.

Trails are able to tell us many things about a particular animal. For example its age, sex, condition and speed it was moving.

 

Successfully tracking animals does not rely on some mystic gift. It's really down to observation and placing together bits of information that have been laid down in front of you by animals that have passed by earlier.
 
Even just by having a good look for animal tracks you can turn any countryside walk into a view into the life of our animals! 
 
Animal tracks can be broken into two categories, those with Cleaves and those with Pads.

Cleaves belong to animals classed as 'Ungulates', either odd-toed such as horses or even-toed such as cattle, pigs and deer. The impressions of the cleaves are called 'slots' and sometimes a 'dew claw' is shown depending on species. Reindeer will show in any circumstance, as will Wild Boar, others when the ground is soft and others still never at all.

Those with pads include digital pads, interdigital pads and proximal pads. The digital pads are most likely to be presented, and proximal pads only usually presented if the impression is set deep into the ground, possibly if the animal has been running..

 

This is the track of a Hare bounding in the direction toward the photographer. The direction can be determined as the two larger pads (hind fore) strike the ground in-front of the smaller pads (front fore) before pushing the front fore forward again.
 
Distinctively different to the track of this Fox, whose arrow straight track (heading off toward Mont Blanc in this case!) is characteristic of predator tracks.

 

Notice how all four pads are in a single line, or very close to, the centre line of the body. There is also a direct registration of each pad, which differs from a dog who's pads frequently overlap, known as an indirect registration.

 

Squirrel tracks are most often found (unsurprisingly?) at the base of trees. They are given away by their butterfly shaped outline, where the hind pads again land in-front of the fore pads and are further from the centre line. In the above  photo the Squirrel is heading toward the trees.

When's the best time to see tracks?

Seeing signs of animals is easiest when the sun is casting a slight shadow over the ground, so either in the morning or the evening. Of course they're still there at midday, but the overhead sun tends to drown the tracks out and make following them trickier. 

Looking at the best medium for tracks also provides the highest likelihood of finding something and being able to identify what kind of animal it was. A dusting of light, fresh snow on a hard surface, such as a back-garden patio makes an excellent medium for seeing tracks.

Deeper snow is great for finding small mammals and bird tracks as they leave crisp, detailed impressions. However with larger mammals, detail is often distorted and enlarged.

 

So next time your enjoying a winter walk, take a look below your feet and see what other animals are enjoying sharing the countryside with you! 

Leave No Trace in the U.K.

What is Leave No Trace

In its simplest form, 'leave no trace' is the practice of using our wild areas in a way that reduces impact to a minimum. The phrase was used  during the 60’s and 70’s in the United States following a large increase in the amount of visitors to wild areas due to the introduction of recreational equipment such as synthetic tents and gas stoves.

The ‘United States Forest Service’ in conjunction with NOLS – the National Outdoor Leadership School, developed the national education program of Leave No Trace in 1990. Since 1994 the “Leave No Trace Centre For Outdoor Ethics”, a non-profit organisation, has existed to educate about recreational impact on nature as well as how to prevent and minimise these impacts through utilisation of seven key principles.

The Leave No Trace organisation has since provided hands on training, workshops and events for over 9.5 million children and adults with representatives in more than 30 countries. There are now international centres in the U.S.A, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

 Leave No Trace Training Courses and Workshops

 The Seven Principles

 Plan Ahead and Prepare

Knowing where you want to go, being prepared for weather changes and emergencies. Where possible, avoiding times of high use and splitting larger groups into smaller.
Pre packing food and removing excess wrapping.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Sticking to established trails of rock, dry grass or snow. Where paths are muddy, stick to the middle rather than walking around.
"Good campsites are found, not made."

Dispose of Waste Properly

Check your campsites and stopping areas for rubbish and spilled food.
"Pack it in, pack it out."
Human waste in a 'cathole' at least 200 feet from water - take tissue out with you! Better still, refer to rule one. 

Leave What You Find

Avoid picking live flowers in delicate areas.
"Preserve the past"
Examine, but do not touch or move historic structures and artifacts.

Minimise Campfire Impact

Fires cause long lasting impact on the environment, consider lightweight stoves for cooking where possible. 
Use established fire rings or fire pans, and burn only the required wood to a fine ash.  

Respect Wildlife

Observe fauna from a distance and avoid feeding and encouragement.

Keep pets under control when appropriate.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Courtesy and politeness goes a long way!
 Pause in a convenient place to let others pass whilst walking, take breaks and camp off the path. 

More Than 7 Rules

At Life Trek Adventures we feel these seven principles offer a great basis for minimum impact outdoor recreation, they can be applied in any location during any sport or activity. They are also brilliant for teaching with younger children, and make an ideal starter point for those looking deeper into development of environmental ethics. 

However, Leave No Trace is also often reduced to seven principles to follow like a guidebook. It is clearly more than this, it is about developing an individual’s relationship and stewardship for the outdoors. For us, it is an area of education often missed within the curriculum and one that should substantiate and be at the heart of outdoor education. 

As more and more people begin to use the United Kingdoms wild spaces for their own recreational activities, it is of clear importance to promote practice that encourages sustainability. This can start from an early age and in easy to access locations such as a local park or woodland, even in a back garden. 

If you would like to attend a Leave no Trace Trainer course or Awareness Workshop, please get in touch using the contact page!