Have you got a collection? I imagine many of you do, and it could be anything from something traditional like stamps, to unusual like handheld vacuums as a friend at primary school used to collect. Interesting chap…

But what got me thinking about collections is a tiny paragraph in the most recent Nature’s Home magazine, tucked away in the newly refreshed Wild About section. I don’t really collect anything, or at least I didn’t think I did until I realised that I have quite a sizeable number of natural objects. A museum of natural curiosities. Feathers, bones and skulls, dead insects, lichen, bits of bark – the list goes on and on. I’ve collected these odds and ends for years, and now I ask myself, “why?”

What's in your box then, Jack? This skull for starters... It's a badger skull, and the coolest thing about it is the pronounced ridge on its head indicating many strong muscle connections to create a very powerful jaw (Photo: Jack Plumb)

Have you seen much spring where you live? I’ve noticed some signs emerging; daffodils, brimstones, blossoms and brighter days. Now I know something about nature and wildlife I feel a bit smug when spring comes around.

“Ah yes of course. Hazel catkins are a tell-tale ‘sign of spring’.” I’ll explain to a friend, experiencing the pleasure of imparting knowledge.

Ah-ha! Imparting knowledge…

If you haven't recovered from the shock of seeing my prized badger skull, these gorgeous little bundles of fluff with little rubber feet should cheer you up - what's a collection without a feather? In this case, my box contains a cygnet's feather from the local, annually returning mute swan family (Photo: Jack Plumb)

One of the best things about having a collection of natural objects is that you can get incredibly close to something for as long as you want. This gives you time to study the particular object. How it looks if it’s an insect carapace, how it feels or smells if it’s some lichen or moss, or how it connects and moves if it’s a skull. It also brings something difficult to see or experience right into the fore, which can be a powerful way of helping you understand a particular natural process, behaviour or characteristic. Now you can probably see where I’m going with this blog…

"But still, she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness." Shelob's many discarded carapaces are a regular feature in my collection (Photo: Jack Plumb)

Let’s create a signs of spring museum of natural curiosities!

First things first, get your eye in. What are the best things to collect? Well, anything you like really. This list, however, should help you focus on spring:

  • Twig with some blossom or buds on it – be careful not to damage the tree
  • Hazel catkin (tell-tale, of course) – give it a flick to see the pollen
  • Daffodil in bloom – to pick or not to pick? Only pick form your garden and leave plenty for the bees!
  • Insects that didn’t quite make it through the cold snap
  • Bones – if you feel like cleaning them or if you find them clean

Clearly these are all physical things directly taken from the natural world, but you don’t have to only gather objects.

Leaves! Easy to find, tons of different ones, last a long time. Clearly this one wasn't collected in spring, but isn't it fantastic? It looks like leather (Photo: Jack Plumb)

You could try:

  • Recording birdsong on your phone
  • Writing a poem about spring for your box
  • Add a “smells of spring” sealed tub – emphasis on sealed
  • Take some photos or paint a picture

Now let’s move on to the true power of having a box full of random spring stuff: inspiring others with nature. The very act of collecting and experiencing spring when creating your box is a good starting point. Make a game of it for yourself, an activity for friends and family, or a challenge for overexcited children or grandchildren.

A temporary addition to the museum of natural curiosities: slug eggs. Treading the line of gross and fascinating, perfectly - just what a nature box needs (Photo: Jack Plumb)

Let's have a look at colours, and who better to help than RSPB President Miranda Krestovnikoff:

"This is the best time of year to find colours in nature - whether it’s the shiny, bright yellow celandines, the fresh white of wild garlic or the delicate pink of the newly emerging copper beech leaves. It’s also the time of year for one of my favourite walks - amongst the delicate scent of the bluebells in the local woods. This is one of the best woodland walks you can do, so make an effort, as they don’t last for very long. There are bluebell woods all over the country so head out to one near you and take a camera. My challenge is for you to see just how many different colours you can find amongst the trees, leaves and wild flowers, taking photos so that others can enjoy them as well. I reckon if you can find all the colours of the rainbow, you’re doing well, but keep looking and see if you can find examples of all these 10: white, yellow, orange, red, green, blue, purple, pink, black, brown."

What's next? Shape. How many spring shapes can you find? Finding buds, leaves, flowers and other shapes in nature is a fun way to count and record spring.

Bird calls and songs can be tricky to learn, but how many different birds do you think you can hear this spring?

And the list of challenges goes on – isn’t spring lively?

Thinking about how to record the above can also make a fun addition to your box. Perhaps you could paint your box with all the colours you've captured this spring? Or you could draw shapes and patterns onto the box that represent spring.

I kept a half chewed seed as a memento from my time with Vole. Vole! Never forget. You can read about Vole here (Photo: Jack Plumb)

And finally, why keep your collection to yourself? This is where a signs of spring museum comes into its own, inspiring friends, family and whoever wants to have a look at your shoebox full of random detritus. Take it with you into town. Bring it on the bus. Thrust it under the nose of every passer by… Spring is here, and this box shows you what you’re missing! Get out there and get springy.

Jack

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