Wild family adventures with TV’s Steve Backshall and Toyota

Gareth Herincx

1 day ago
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Steve Backshall, Toyota RAV4 and kids

Keeping kids occupied during the summer holidays is no easy task. Exploring the great outdoors, whatever the weather, is one way to enjoy time together as a family.

Toyota has teamed up with TV naturalist, adventurer and father-of-three Steve Backshall to provide ideas for adventures in nature.

Steve and his wife – two-time Olympic champion rower Helen Glover – spent their respective childhoods exploring the Surrey heathland and Cornish beaches.

“For many parents, bug-hunting and pond-dipping are reminiscent of their own childhoods, while for others, new ideas for outdoor experiences will help increase knowledge and appreciation of the natural world and will entertain kids of any age during the long school holidays,” says Steve.

Steve’s trusted countryside companion is the new Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid SUV, which is ideal for a family expeditions.

Steve Backshall, Toyota RAV4 and kids

It offers low emissions and can drive for up to 46 miles in pure electric mode. All-wheel drive is standard and there’s a Trail Mode, so it’s perfect for tackling tricky terrain, plus there’s boot space for naturalist kit, picnics and spare clothes.

Steve and Helen’s new book, Wildlings: How to raise your family in nature (published by Two Roads) contains the following outdoor ideas for all the family…

  • Building an A-frame den in the woods: dens can be used as hideouts, birdwatching hides, or simply as somewhere to shelter when it rains, and building them is a fun family activity.  Find two trees close together with lowish forks and put a long straight branch between them.  Use material you find on the ground to build up each side of the den, propping sticks in a row against the long branch.  Use smaller, bendy sticks to weave in and out of the upright sticks – the den should look a bit like a tent shaped basket.  Finish by packing leaves, grass, or moss on top to fill in the gaps.
  • Treasure hunt in the woods: a common parenting challenge is how to get children to walk further. A treasure hunt is a great way to do this.  On family walks, scoring arrows into the mud or sand, or making arrows with sticks or stones, can help engage children and will distract from cries of ‘are we nearly there yet?’
  • Go blackberry picking: blackberry picking is a great way to introduce children to foraging. Blackberries are easy to pick as they tend to grow at a child’s height, often beside paths or hedgerows, and it’s easy for a child to identify a ripe from an unripe blackberry simply by looking at the colour. The whole family will enjoy eating the harvested berries, or you could get the kids involved in making and eating a blackberry crumble.
  • Butterfly hunts: a butterfly net, or sweep net, is a fun way to find out what is living in a park, field, or meadow.  Over the summer holidays, you’re likely to catch bush crickets, moths and butterflies.  Sweep the net through the upper sections of grasses in the colourful bits of a meadow, but be careful not to damage wildflowers.  You can put the collected insects in a ‘pooter’.  This is a little pot with two straws attached, where you suck on one straw and the insects are gently whisked into the pot for examination (there’s a valve on the human straw so there is no danger of getting a mouthful of ants!). Use a hand lens with x10 magnification to identify insects and examine them in detail. Remember to release them afterwards.
  • Bird spotting: according to the British Ornithologists Union, 574 different bird species have been spotted in the British Isles, and kids can learn to identify them by sight using a guide to British birds, or sticker book, or by sound, using free mobile apps such as BirdNET.  You only need to record a few seconds of birdsong and the app will identify the bird.
  • Wildlife photography challenge: Steve says: “Everyone has a camera and learning to capture a moment in time through a lens, how to frame a picture and when to take a photo, are lessons that require a child to slow down and connect with nature. Smartphones are fine for taking pictures of mini-beasts, or sunsets, or capturing the dew on a spider’s web.  Encourage youngsters to identify a subject, and place it in the centre of the shot, making sure the light falls on it.   Then set a photography project, such as taking photos of 10 things beginning with the letter ‘P,’ or five things you think an animal would want to eat.” No smartphone will rival what you can capture with an SLR (single lens reflex) camera, so you might want to invest in one.  Big lenses let you photograph birds and deer from a distance and take wildlife photography to a whole new level.
  • Setting a wildlife camera trap: camera traps have transformed naturalist pursuits, and easy-to-use, compact HD video camera traps are reasonably priced. Classic subjects are badgers, which are shy, nocturnal creatures.  If you set a camera trap near a badger sett, the results can be spectacular.  Choose a sett entrance that is used frequently – it will have the fewest cobwebs across it and may have the most teddy-bear-like footprints at the front.  Think of the height of a badger when setting the camera; don’t aim it too high, and make sure the shot is wide enough to see more than the animal running in and out of frame. Also, don’t position it where it could be damaged or stolen, or in the way of people or wildlife.
  • Woodland treasure hunt: Steve suggests that every ramble can turn into an animal detective novel: “Tracking has drama, secrets, the potential to experience an animal you may never see, to feel you are walking in their footsteps.”  Challenge the kids to look for things like a discarded nutshell, a feather, an acorn, an animal print, evidence of animal feeding areas, or animal trails.
  • Learn to use an Ordnance Survey (OS) map: with a GPS in everyone’s pocket, map-reading is a dying art, but learning to see the relief of the land from the contours is a skill that saves time and could save a life in the future. Micro-nav is fine for navigating short distances, following a compass bearing. Give your kids a six-figure grid reference for a point of interest, such as a tower, or a footbridge over a small stream, to plot on the OS map.  Give them a compass bearing, or another grid reference which they need to find, then follow the bearing to the next grid point.  This can be challenging, even in a city park, as if you are a degree out on your bearing, you could end up off-track.
  • Pond dipping: Steve recommends swimming pool nets for pond-dipping, as they are sturdier than seaside fishing nets.  At a pond or river, get the kids to sweep the net through the water in a figure of eight movement to catch as much life as possible, then empty the contents into a tray or jam jar.  You’ll find vertebrates such as newts, frogs, and small fish, by sweeping around reeds.  For invertebrates it is better to sweep the river or pond bed. Remember to tip everything back into the water when you’ve finished.

Steve Backshall, Toyota RAV4 and kids

Steve’s recommended wildings kit

Naturalist kit:

  • Hand lens x 10 magnification
  • Binoculars
  • Wildlife camera trap
  • SLR camera (single lens reflex camera)
  • Butterfly nets
  • Pond-dipping nets and jam jars
  • Buckets and spades
  • OS maps
  • Wildlife guidebooks

Practical essentials:

  • Change of clothes
  • Towels
  • Wetsuits (if planning to kayak, canoe or surf)
  • Snacks, water in reusable bottles, flask of tea
  • Sun cream
  • Spare battery pack for mobile phone
  • Umbrella

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How to prepare for the perfect family camping expedition

Gareth Herincx

2 days ago
Auto Blog

TV Adventurer and Toyota Highlander Hybrid driver Steve Backshall's camping tips

It’s a staycation summer, so TV adventurer Steve Backshall has teamed up with Toyota to provide some essential camping tips.

The author and wildlife expert uses his passion for nature to add a sense of adventure to holidays with his family – wife Helen, their three-year-old son, Logan, and 15-month-old twins, Kit and Willow.

““It’s all about Ps – prior planning and preparation prevents poor parenting performance,” reckons Steve.

However, he admits his first attempt at camping with three small children was a disorganised disaster: “It was all over the shop with kit, nappies and general carnage, but the sensation of waking up with my young son snoring next to me, the twins clambering all over my wife and the sound of breaking waves in our ears was unforgettable.

“The most important things you can pack are a sense of humour and a sense of perspective. The certainty is that discomfort is short-lived, but memories last forever.”

TV Adventurer and Toyota Highlander Hybrid driver Steve Backshall's camping tips

Steve’s trusted four-wheeled camping companion is the new seven-seat Highlander, the largest hybrid electric SUV model in the Toyota range.

After two years with a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the new vehicle is ideal for his growing family with its space for extra seats, luggage and kit.

Steve Backshall’s top tips for what to take on your family camping adventure

  • The tent: as soon as you start camping with babies, the amount of kit you have expands exponentially. It is essential to have a tent that packs small and light, goes up quickly, and has plenty of space. Critically, you want the tent to be big enough for the whole family to sleep together, while being sufficiently wind and weatherproof to avoid any nasty surprises in the middle of the night.
  • Nest is best: travel cots are bulky and heavy, and rarely that comfortable. Alternatives like a travel pod or nest, that can be folded down into a tiny backpack can create a handy crib. Stick it inside your tent or even alongside you at the beach for an instant infant safe sleep zone.
  • Comfortable camping seats: it says something about their relationship that this is the present Steve asked Helen to give him for Christmas – a comfortable and light camping seat that is packable. Steve claims he would sit in it at home in front of the telly if he could.
  • Licence to grill: Steve says before finding the perfect portable grille, cooking over an open fire was a lottery. Attempts using logs or bricks as supports would inevitably end up with burnt food spilling into the ashes. The one he uses is ready in seconds and turns the campfire into a stove. Always observe safety and etiquette when using an open fire in any outdoor setting.
  • “Off-road” buggy: a baby buggy can be the most expensive item you’ll need for a great family camping trip. It’s important to choose one that is good on rough terrain, that you can run with, and which gives the little ones a really good view. An unexpected advantage has been the seat on the back of the buggy, which Steve’s son loves riding on when he’s feeling lazy.
  • Carry packs: while the buggy is great, sometimes you want to cover some serious terrain on foot, and nothing on wheels will cut it. These packs are so well engineered that babies feel weightless. Steve has tested their quality on rocky paths and mountain routes.
  • Sun suits: Steve has three very fair children, so sun protection is vital. That means making sure sun hats are firmly in place and regularly applying high factor sun screen. Using sun suits means you can always spot where the kids are and they’re convenient because they dry out quickly
  • The car: Camping is not just about the end location, but the journey along the way, and keeping spirits high before reaching the campsite relies on a good choice of vehicle. Steve had a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid for two years and loved it because it was economical, quiet and spacious – everything you need for a stress-free drive to the campsite. It served faithfully as his adventure wagon, kids’ climbing frame and mobile base-camp, and it never let him down. His new Toyota Highlander has an extra row of rear seats, which means Steve can comfortably load up all the children, Helen and even her mum.
  • Buoyancy aid jackets: these are a must if the children are on or near water. They fit snugly and Steve makes sure all his youngsters wear them whenever they are close to water.

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