Nature with Nik Mitchell: Who’s playing conkers?

Getting the conkers battle ready

One of things that engaged me most with the natural world as a kid was the school yard game conkers!

As a kid in the 80s and 90s we would rush to school in these early autumn mornings in the hope of finding the next champion conker from the Horse Chestnut tree in the school.

Wrapped within a fleshy green prickly casing we would find our brown, shiny fruit that had fallen from the tree or been hit with a well-aimed stick. It was an autumn craze every year; we knew all the best “conker” trees in the village too.

Once you had your carefully selected conker you made a hole through the middle with a knitting needle or dad’s drill. You then threaded it onto a shoelace with a big knot in one end. Then, lining up with an opponent, you take it in turns to strike each other’s conker.

The aim is to smash the opponents conker to pieces and then your conker becomes the victor. It is important to have the hardest conker. We’d bake them, soak them in vinegar and even paint them with nail varnish. It was so much fun and I am now teaching my young children the joys of the seasonal game.

It’s another subtle disconnect from the natural world that the game has sadly been banned in many schools. They started to ban the game conkers in the early 2000s. An incredibly bad move, so much excitement to be had and importantly engagement with the natural world and what is has to offer. I urge you to take your children out to harvest their potential victors.

Thanet nature expert Nik Mitchell runs the Wildlife Conservation in Thanet page on facebook