Tag Archives: RSPB

Volunteer army gets wild

Across the UK there are conservation organisations, large and small, that depend on an army of volunteers to help look after special habitats and create the right environment for species to flourish.

More than ever the natural world needs us to do our bit. In just a couple of generations wildlife has started to really struggle. Barely a week goes by without a new report about the challenges facing nature in the UK and across the globe.

Getting involved in supporting a wildlife organisation by giving up some of your time is a great way to make a real difference. Armies of volunteers are helping to create the space for nature and also helping us to understand what is happening and why.

Working at the National Trust for more than a decade I got a real insight into the important role that volunteers made. From a postman who had catalogued the number of birds at Malham Tarn in Yorkshire for over forty years to people getting involved in surveying a precious coastal site in Dorset.

Groups of volunteers from companies coming in to help with improving habitats and helping to survey the land is a brilliant way to make a real difference.

If regular volunteering can prove a bit tricky in terms of time commitments there are loads of great citizen science surveys  – including the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, the Woodland Trusts’s nature’s calendar and Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. These really matter in terms of helping wildlife experts understand changes that are happening across the UK.

Volunteering is a wonderful way of giving back to your community and doing your bit to keep our green spaces special.

 

 

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Keeping it wild in winter

Millions of us will be tuning into Winterwatch this week as our TV screens are filled with natural winter treats. There is always a slight misconception that nature shuts down during the shorter days and as the temperature hovers around freezing. Yet there is still plenty to see and do; and its a great time to get planning as we move towards Spring. So in true list style here are five things to keep you occupied on the nature front.

  1. Visit a local nature reserve. You’re never that far from a natural wonder, where-ever you live. Organisations such as the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust have some great places to explore and the winter time is no exception. You’ll see them in a raw state as they start to come alive with the turning of the wild clocks to warmer days. Repeat the visit during the different season and you will develop a special connection.
  2. Read a nature book. In the last decade writing about nature has boomed. And there is a treasure chest of classics that have been re-issued by publishers such as Little Toller. So pop to a local bookshop, library or browse online and pick a book or some poetry to transport you into the magic of nature.
  3. Get volunteering. Green places, such as City Farms, need people to help out. Spending some time helping to make these wonderful places beacons for wildlife is really rewarding and you can get to know some great local charities. There is always plenty to do what-ever the time of year. Or you can taker part in survey’s such as the RSPB Big Garden Watch at the end of January. Many conservation organisations run similar citizen science projects throughout the year.
  4. Watch the birdies. We all know about the wonder that is the Dawn Chorus; a sound that captures the heart and lifts the soul. But the winter can be a fab time to tune into local songbirds, whether the Dawn or Dusk Chorus. And with few leaves on the trees you can actually see them too.
  5. Go for a wander. If you take the time to look you can find nature in many surprising places. Take the time to go for a wander, either from where you live or in to the local countryside. There are plenty of great walking books or plot a route on an OS Map or online. As you walk look, listen and absorb. You’ll spot things that you would have never thought would be there and you’ll get so much out of it.

So if you love Winterwatch (and the BBC Watches more generally) use it as a way to get up off of the sofa and out into the outdoors. You won’t regret it.

A rain-soaked memory bank

I’ve just finished reading ‘Rain’ by Melissa Harrison. It’s a book that searches out those rain-soaked memories that lurk deep in your memory bank as you hungrily read the pages.

Weather has been a long-held fascination for the people of these islands. As Harrison points out it’s shaped the way that we live and the way that we think about our identity. Our countryside, our system of farming over the last 10,000 years and the wildlife that calls the UK home are all dependent on the weather.

As an island on the western edge of mainland Europe at the mercy of the full forces of the Atlantic and sweeping weather fronts you’d kind of expect this to be the case. Talking about the weather can help fill the voids of the awkward conversational moments when we run out of things to talk about. We’re always in a slight state of anxiety about what the weather will do today. The only predictable thing about the UK weather is its unpredictability.

The great thing about this is that it’s never boring on the weather front. We might not have the sun-baked summers of southern Europe or the sheet-white winters of northern Europe but this diversity of weather means that it plays such an important role of shaping our daily experiences, whether the journey to work or a summer holiday.

Years ago I remember visiting the sea cliff masterpiece that is Bempton on the Yorkshire coast. As we arrived to catch a glimpse of the seabirds at this RSPB site, storm clouds gathered in the distance. Despite the impending downpour a family, in true British bulldog spirit, was getting ready for a picnic. They were going to have their neatly cut sandwiches and a cup of tea whatever the weather. This speaks, for me, to something at the core of our national identity; shaped as much by our weather as any grandiose national narrative. We are what the weather throws at us; sculpting and creating beautiful landscapes and a total pragmatism in character, which is very British.

In many parts of the world when the rain comes people take shelter. In the UK we carry on as normal. On a work visit to Snowdonia I remember standing in a blanket bog in the driving rain talking about this important habitat. I can remember it as though it was yesterday and it feels like your body will take weeks to dry out.  Only in the UK would this happen.

When I think back to my childhood or time with my kids now, it’s the wilder weather that springs to mind. Wrapped on a Cornish beach with crashing waves or splashing in puddles at Victoria Park in Bath on a deserted day. I just love the weather and we should all grow to love its inclement nature.

Made in Britain: a den-building revolution

Barely a week, and sometimes a day, goes past, without a new report about children in the UK losing touch with the natural world.

Kids need their nature time and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

Kids need their nature time and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

Despite the best efforts of a lot of people it seems as though the long-term trend isn’t looking good. This could be a generation of children that has little or no connection with the natural world – something that feels shocking to say as I write.

The spontaneity of playing outdoors for hour after hour has diminished pretty dramatically in no time at all. When was the last time that you saw kids playing out in the street where you live (too many cars) or a local green patch (what are they up too?)?

And yet there is I detect a glimmer of hope on the horizon. There is a very British revolution happening: people quietly going about their business, making some bold changes. No big bang, more incremental change but tapping into an apparently dormant and untapped demand for more nature time among children and families. Think about the brilliant Forest School movement and how they have become the norm for many schools with spin off’s for holidays.

Without these interventions any concept of having a wild time outdoors might pass this generation of children completely by.

People might bemoan the fact of organised events but if it sparks that interest which then cascades into family life, it is a positive step forward. Remember that barely one in five children have any sort of deep connection with the natural world and outdoor play and until the next RSPB survey we don’t know where that figure is heading – it could be north or south.

Last summer I spent a day at the beautiful Fyne Court in Somerset – helping out with Wild Wednesday. My impressions from those few hours in the sunshine have been deeply ingrained in my memory: kids fanning out across a south facing slope looking for butterflies and children racing snails. Yes it’s organised but there is no doubt in my mind this day was helping to create a sense of nature as fun and something exciting. A National Trust ranger also told me that when they advertise den-building days the phone rings off the hook a la Glastonbury festival on the day that tickets go on sale.

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little nature trail around Bath City Farm keeps them going

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little walk around Bath City Farm keeps them going

At my local city farm in Bath they have a fantastic one-mile nature trail with plenty of things to keep kids interested and they’ve recently added a little woodland play area. It’s very simple and it works drawing kids out into the green spaces where their imaginations can run wild; it gives them the confidence to try new things and have that real sense of adventure.

And never underestimate the power of children getting their friends into nature. My eight year-old daughter set up a wildlife club for her class-mates – complete with little membership cards. Demand was huge and they gather every week to talk about things that they have seen.

Organisations, large and small, the usual and unusual suspects are rolling up their sleeves and making change happen – and the amazing Wild Network is the personification of this, bringing people together to create real change.

Something is stirring across the UK, in schools, local communities and the conservation movement that gives me hope. The den-building revolution has begun and the road to reconnection with nature is paved with optimism.

Wild Things: reconnecting kids and nature

This is a longer posting than normal as it appeared in the November/December issue of The Bath and Wiltshire Parent magazine.

“Seeing thirty kids running wild is a wonderful sight. They are all in their element, rosy cheeked with almost limitless sources of energy; running, climbing, hiding and making. This was the scene at a birthday party in the hidden world of Mike’s Meadow, a parcel of land attached to Batheaston Primary School. Used as a place for the Forest School it can be hired out and one of the departing parents neatly summed up the experience – ‘this was the best party that my son has ever been too’.

Kids have a special connection with the outdoors, giving them a real sense of freedom and allowing their imagination to run wild. Hearing their laughter and the noise of them excitedly running about collecting conkers or rolling down a hill is pretty special. It’s giving them the experiences that will help equip them for the journey of life.

However, the pull of the outdoors has more competition that a generation ago. This was confirmed by an RSPB survey that showed that only one in five children has a connection with nature. The reasons that this change has happened pretty quickly are complex from the rise of screen time to more traffic on the roads.

It feels like change is in the air and that Bath and Wiltshire is at the heart of this movement for reconnecting kids with nature. More schools than ever before are running Forest Schools (they have exploded in popularity in a couple of years), outdoor clubs during school holidays are really popular and den building events sell-out almost as quickly as tickets for Glastonbury.

Steve Sutherland set up Hidden Woods three years ago hoping to recreate the experiences that he had in his childhood for today’s kids. Set across 80 acres of ancient woodland it’s a place that kids can roam free, get muddy knees and get that little bit close to nature.

Steve explains: “There’s a growing awareness of the importance of unstructured outdoor play on children’s development. Whilst the research suggests that today’s children spend much less time doing so than their grandparents did, our experience at Hidden Woods is that they’re always stimulated by the environment and instinctively know how to entertain themselves away from all the screens and modern day distractions.

“We regularly observe the benefits that such rich child-led experiences deliver – greater self-confidence, improved communication and physical skills to name but a few. It’s a real privilege to be facilitating and sharing such powerful experiences in our wonderful natural playground.”

Parents always want what is best for their children and the evidence is stacking up that time spent outdoors and in nature is a key way to help kids grow.

Teachers, GP’s, play experts, local authorities and politicians are also seeing the wider benefits of outdoor time for children.

Time playing outdoors can improve children’s physical activity rates fourfold compared to playing formal sport. Playing in green space helps to reduce children’s blood pressure and enhance their physical development, a counter to the more sedentary lifestyle associated with screen time. Perhaps the most compelling stat is then three-quarters of children feels happiest when playing outside, helping them to connect with the natural environment and sleep well after all of that fresh air.

Teacher Sally Searby runs the weekly wild and muddy club and organises forest schools at St Stephen’s Primary School in Bath. These hugely popular outdoors sessions help kids experience den building, climbing trees and making fires in a safe environment – giving them skills that will last a lifetime.

Sally Searby explains: ‘Forest Schools are all about exploring and experiencing the natural world through practical activities. The activities that take place build on a child’s innate motivation and positive attitude to learning, offering them the opportunities to take risks, make choices and initiate learning for themselves.”

It’s not just formal learning where change is happening. Bath and North East Somerset is one of two councils in the UK to adopt the risk-benefit approach to play. This new model is about looking at both the risks and benefits. Jeremy Dymond, who has over-seen work on play in the city, says: “Children have a natural tendency to explore, have fun and take risks. This is a part of growing up and something we all want to encourage safely. Safety should not equal boring.”

The council has designed a toolkit to help people working with children to make play fun and exciting and weigh up the benefits of being active, creative, out in nature, and the improved health and wellbeing that this would offer, set against the real, yet reasonably low risks of playing outdoors.

Luckington Community School in Wiltshire has recently revived its playground with three beautiful tepees surrounded by wildflowers, creating a magical place for children’s imagination to run wild. Schools across the county are being supporting by the County Council as part of its Outdoor Play Project – showing how local authorities, with the support of local communities, can make a huge difference.

Conservation charities are also upping their game. The Avon Wildlife Trust and National Trust are both part of the Wild Network, a movement of over 1,500 organisations committed to reconnecting kids to nature and outdoor play.

Locally the Bath Skyline, much of which is managed by the National Trust, now has a fantastic natural play trail which is proving a huge hit with families. It allows kids (and parents too) to have a go at clambering, climbing and building in the woods.

I’m glad that my children have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors as much as I do. Seeing their faces as they watch a spider in its web or their huge appetite for collecting conkers brings a smile to my face. They love being outdoors, like all children do, having the chance to explore, the chance to engage in imaginative play and the chance to see nature close up; and it’s helped me see the world anew from their viewpoint.

So, why not give your kids the gift of wild time this Christmas. The experience of being outdoors will create an experience that will stay with them for life and there is something magical about being in the natural world with your children whether collecting treasure on a walk or finding a river to play pooh sticks.”