Conservation and Community Engagement in Clackmannanshire
What an amazing view from Alva Glen
Recently there has been the launch of a new partnership between The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and Enabling Projects In Clackmannanshire (EPIC). The partnership seeks to raise awareness for the distinctive landscape features and biodiversity around the Ochil Hillfoot Villages and promotes the need to safeguard such cultural and natural heritage through Community Engagement and Volunteering opportunities. Steered by EPIC, my role as TCV’s Senior Project Officer will be to identify the unique local environments, habitats and species of Clackmannanshire and devise the best means to conserve and enhance such features for the environment, local communities and visitors. In collaboration with the development of volunteer skills, Community engagement will be invaluable means of facilitating the sustainability of the project both now and in the future.
The sheep helping to signpost the way
For more information on EPIC please contact me on the details below:
Walking through Cumbernauld’s Bluebell Woods (courtesy Tracy Lambert)
Stick your hand up if you know someone who has suffered – at some point in their lives – from poor mental health…
So that’s everyone then.
This week is mental health awareness week. It’s a brilliant initiative, anything that brings mental health issues into focus should be applauded. But when you think about it, it’s also a bit of a strange idea.
Why do we need to have mental health awareness events? Every single person reading this will know someone with a mental health issue. 1 in 4 readers will be sufferers themselves. We don’t have broken leg awareness days. Or common cold awareness days. Why is mental health different?
Of course I do understand why really. As a long term sufferer of depression and anxiety disorders I understand the fear and, unfortunately, the shame. Not necessarily my fear and shame (though there is always some of that) but that of those around me.
The fear that they’ll say or do the wrong thing. The fear that I’ll suddenly do something ‘crazy’. The Hollywood inspired fear that I’ll ‘snap’. The fear within me that I’d never get any better or that I had no future.
And the shame. The shame of my family that they’d somehow caused this, that they’d made a mistake or done something wrong while bringing me up.
My own shame about my illness that led to me lieing to family and friends about exactly why I wasn’t living a ‘normal’ life. Why I didn’t have a job, or a home of my own, why I didn’t go out or answer phone calls.
What caused that? Why was I ashamed of something that I had no control over?
If I had contracted an illness that left me paralysed in a wheelchair would I have felt compelled to try and stand up in front of people to prove it wasn’t really an issue? Would a loved one have told me to ‘snap out of it’ and get up and walk?
It’s ridiculous when you really sit down and think about it.
The real fear is the unknown. We’re afraid of mental health because we don’t know enough about it. We don’t talk enough about it.
But whether justified or not the fear is real. And the natural reaction to a fear that you can’t conquer is to run from it. To hide. Fight or Flight, that’s the solution evolution has provided us with, but all evolution is concerned with is survival – not happiness, not contentment, not hope for the future.
Unfortunately, the truth is that for many people there is no cure for mental health issues, just ways of learning to live with your condition, learning to cope, learning to enjoy and embrace life. Everyone’s journey, everyone’s battle, is unique to them.
There is no cure, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope..
Over the past year I’ve been working with The Conservation Volunteers and Cumbernauld Living Landscape on a project called Wild Ways Well. We use a proven mental health recovery framework called the Five Ways to Wellbeing:
We take the Five Ways to Wellbeing outdoors, into the woods, parks, nature reserves and greenspaces of Cumbernauld.
Our first photography day – not every session is in the sunshine but there’s always something new to see whatever the weather
Day to day I’m based in a Scottish Wildlife Trust office and it’s usually – though not always – Trust wildlife reserves where we spend our sessions. This ensures that conservation is at the heart of everything we do.
The structure of the programme has evolved over the year, responding to feedback from participants and lessons learned along the way. It’s pretty settled now, we meet in a central location and simply walk into a greenspace – of which Cumbernauld has many – and enjoy spending a couple of hours amongst nature. We usually sit and boil a cup of tea over an outdoor kettle, have a chat and then head off for an environmental themed activity.
We go out exploring among the trees and the pathways. We learn about the wildlife that shares our spaces with us, learning their unique behaviours, their lifestyles, the signs that they leave behind. We watch the birds flitting through the trees and learn their calls. We build shelters, boil outdoor kettles, drink a lot of hot chocolate and toast a LOT of marshmallows. We learn the names of the trees and the flowers – and have even planted a few to live on in the greenspaces long after we’ve gone.
We tell stories, draw, create art with the natural materials around us. We take photographs, we slow right down and take time to use our senses, watching, listening, recording the cycle of life as it moves through the seasons.
We talk to one another and learn each other’s story. Sometimes we can give a bit of advice, much of the time we take on board a piece of hard earned wisdom from someone else’s journey.
We’re Active; We Take Notice; We Learn; We Connect; We Give.
And, slowly, we change.
I’ve watched people change before my eyes, watched a sense of achievement, pride and confidence grow. Watched people accomplish things they never thought they would, or could.
Two school students suffering from confidence issues who stood up in front of 100 people at a national conference and gave brilliant presentations about the water quality in thier local pond.
A gentleman who had never travelled anywhere on his own before who planned his own route and caught two different buses to come and meet us for a walk.
A woman whose days seemed filled with sadness who smiled the first time she lit a Kelly Kettle with a fire steel.
A lady, normally reluctant to speak in front of others, who pointed out some fungi on a piece of dead wood and confidently told a stranger why it was important to a healthy woodland.
Dead Wood is Dead Good!
John Muir said that “Between every two pine trees is a doorway to a new life”
We step through that doorway every time we venture outside into the woods and while we’re looking among the trees for signs of bumblebees or badgers, sometimes the most unexpected thing we find is ourselves.
There is a perception amongst some people that the outdoors is not for them, that the greenspaces are for others, that the woods aren’t somewhere ‘ordinary’ people should spend time. That wildlife reserves are only for nature geeks.
The greenspaces are for everyone. The trees, the flowers, the bird song, feeds our senses and our souls. We belong outdoors amongst nature, we’re part of nature.
There are few (if any) harmful side effects from a walk in the woods. There is no cost to society or to the NHS from a visit to a wildflower meadow, but the value to an individual can be immeasurable.
The only real danger is that you might develop an addiction to sunshine, clean air, peace and tranquillity.
Taking time to stop, notice, and photograph flowers
That’s a risk I’m willing to take.
When I was a child I was afraid of monsters under the bed. My parents gave me two tools for that – one was a torch to shine into the dark places; the other was a stick, to ensure that the monsters knew I was no pushover.
Mental health awareness is the torch. The more we talk, the more we share, the more we shine a light into the dark places, the more we find that there is nothing there to be afraid of but shadows.
The stick part is easy. Every time I go for a walk amongst the trees in Cumbernauld I see sticks all around me.
TCV is currently working with the Forestry Commission Scotland as part of the Scotland Counts Project to produce a new Citizen Science project all about Deadwood! How exciting! This first blog will give you a bit of background information about deadwood and why it needs our help 🙂
So what exactly is Deadwood? And why is it dead good?
Deadwood is a tree or part of a tree that has died and is in a stage of decomposition.
Here are five different types of deadwood (figure 1):
Deadwood is extremely important to the health of woodlands and even us humans! It plays a big part in nutrient recycling. As plants grow they take nutrients from the soil to help them thrive. If the plant is then removed from that soil, as it often is when you are growing vegetables to eat, then those nutrients are taken away, which is why farmers have to add nutrients back into their soil with compost and fertilisers. In a more natural environment like a forest, where plants like trees are left to grow and die, then the dead wood from the trees will slowly release nitrogen into the soil as it decays for other plants to use.
Deadwood also acts as a carbon storage system, capturing the carbon that the tree has taken in over its life and locking it into the ground to prevent that carbon being released into the atmosphere, which is a cause of unnatural global warning.
Fallen deadwood also helps the stability of woodland soil and helps prevent soil erosion.
Last but definitely not least, deadwood is an important microhabitat for hundreds of wildlife species and is used by birds, mammals, fungi, plants, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and even fish! Ancient woodlands are thought to have the most variety of plants and animals of all the UK habitats and40% of woodland wildlife species are dependent on deadwood at some stage of their life. This includes living on or in the deadwood, eating it, or eating the things that live and grow on it. There are some very intriguing relationships between specific living things relying on very specific types of deadwood, making deadwood home to some of the rarest species on earth. For example, the pine hoverfly only breeds in wet pockets of decay on scots pine tree stumps, and the black tinder fungus beetle only lives on the fruiting bodies of the tinder fungus which only lives on dead birch trees.
It’s these very specific relationships that give deadwood such a great biodiversity value, because there are so many species of trees decaying and different rates and stages and shapes and sizes, it has enabled thousands of other living things to take advantage of these different stages, and take advantage of the creatures taking advantage of deadwood!
But it’s these very specialised niches and relationships that mean deadwood is particularly vulnerable to human activity and environmental change.
Threats to deadwood habitats:
Removal: Deadwood makes great firewood and is often removed from woodlands to be used as fuel. Deadwood is also removed from parks and public woodlands as it is thought to be ‘messy’ or even dangerous as it is thought that it could harbour pests and diseases, or fall on your head. Some land managers feel there is a need to be in keeping with this public perception of tidiness, but unfortunately wildlife, and deadwood, will not thrive in a tidy park or woodland garden.
Uniform Age and Species Structure: Many of our woodland areas in Britain are actually forestry plantations. This involves lots of trees (mainly conifer species) being planted all at the same time closely together, so that the trees produce long straight timber that can be harvested and used for building. This is great for timber production, but the problem is that it means all the trees are of the same species and same age. In natural woodland the trees would be a mixture of those that are dead or ancient veteran trees right down to saplings which would host a healthy variety and covering of types of deadwood.
Loss of traditional woodland management: Woodlands are one of the few natural habitats in Britain that have historically benefitted from human activity. Traditionally our woodlands were managed to produce a variety of fuel and building materials, food and hunting opportunities. Different traditional practices such as coppicing and pollarding (cutting trees to so that they sprout several poles of flexible wood rather than one long piece of timber) meant that areas of woodland where opened up, allowing more light to the woodland floor and therefore encouraging more ground flora. Regular and varied harvesting also meant that many deadwood habitats where created. Sadly there is no longer a demand for these woodland products and activities, it is now cheaper to buy timber from abroad, people now use fencing rather than coppice poles, and the public prefer to buy their food from shops rather than forage it. This has led to woodlands becoming less bio-diverse and the reduction in deadwood certainly has a hand in this.
Fertilisers and Pesticides: Many large farms and plantations spray pesticides on their crops. These pesticides can very easily be absorbed by deadwood which then kills any invertebrates living within it, or animals that then eat the invertebrates.
So it sounds like deadwood, and all the creatures that love it, could do with a bit of help, to get more people excited about deadwood and its protection.
This is why we in the TCV Citizen Science team have been working to produce The Dead Good Deadwood Survey!
The reason we have done this is to create an educational tool kit that will help people understand the benefits of looking after deadwood whilst also providing us and them with new information about our local woodlands and green spaces. Keep an eye out for our next blog to find out how exactly you can survey deadwood and improve deadwood habitats, but for now, head out and see if you can spot some dead good deadwood!
Figure 1. Forestry Commission (2012) Different types of deadwood found in forests and woodlands [Illustration] At: Jonathan Humphrey and Sallie Bailey (2012). Managing deadwood in forests and woodlands. Forestry Commission Practice Guide. Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.