If you are going to tell a group of school kids about how a lone Hawthorn tree signifies an entrance into the faerie world where time stands still then do it at the end of an event, not the beginning! Otherwise that question along with many many others will plague you for the rest of the day. I was supporting an event that myself and the biodiversity officer from Fermanagh and Omagh council had organised to celebrate international biodiversity day. A nature scavenger hunt was on the agenda. Our bounty included a bird, a bee, a wildflower, an oak and hawthorn tree and a daisy. All of them were found as we wandered round the tall trees of Forthill Park in the centre of Enniskillen (it helped that we had laid out laminated sheets with each of these on predefined spots but that doesn’t matter).
At each stop it was an uphill struggle to get everyone engaged but when we reached the hawthorn tree and I uttered the presence of faeires then everything changed. The story goes that a lone May tree in the middle of a field shelters an entrance to another world. A world were tiny winged people rule and grant wishes to those that dare ask. Where time moves slower than a snail and 100 of our years will pass in just the blink of an eye. Silence and dropped jaws, that was what I saw before me now, not a blur of uniforms and noise anymore. Stories such as this have been lost among many of the younger generations. Thankfully in Ireland they are still held by much of the older generation and as such there are plenty of hawthorns in the middle of fields that farmers are terrified of cutting down for fear of upsetting those tiny folk.
Sticking with the theme of folklore I lead a guided wildflower walk for the good people of Bellanaleck along the beautiful lough shore path that leads from the village. There’s that awful moment when you have planned an event and you’re waiting in the car park and its 5 minutes to go and there’s not a soul around! That was exactly what happened except thankfully at 1 minute to go 12 people had gathered and the sun was trying harder then ever to make it a beautiful day. I lead the group along the path telling them about stinking bob (herb robert) and its ability to stem the flow of blood (doesn’t work), about willow and its painkilling properties (does work) as well as leprechauns potatoes (pignut) and how ground ivy can cure ringing ears (it can’t). This was a great opportunity for me to meet the Bellanaleck community group and for me to teach them about the beautiful wildflowers they see everyday when they walk along here. I have to say I learned a hell of a lot myself, for example did you know that if you’ve got the dreaded Kings Evil then a dose of lesser celandine will cure you in no time! I did learn a lot but I am yet to learn what on gods green earth the kings evil is! After the walk we chatted about how we could improve the community garden, how we could put in a pond, what are the H&S implications of that, what funding is available. I’m going to meet with them again and fingers crossed we can make what is already a brilliant green space an even better one.
In the spirit of natural networks I thought it would be a great idea to enlist the help of Anna our cohort at CEDaR (Centre for Evironmental Data and Recording) who is a natural talent trainee looking into the effects of fires on our invertebrate fauna. I had arranged to meet up with the homework club at Devenish partnership forum which I had taken birdwatching in their local NR the week before. This week it was going to be all about minibeasts! We had a group of 8 – 10 year olds followed by a group of 10 – 12 yr olds. They come in after school wanting to do nothing other than go crazy because its a Friday. After they settle down I try to explain about how many insects there are and why they are so important. I think something is getting through but the energy is getting to crisis levels and thankfully its time to go outside! It is brilliant to see how much kids relish the opportunity to go outside on a sunny day and run through long grass looking for beasties. With all the chat about nature deficit disorder these days its easy to think that kids hate being outdoors but that’s not the case. Given the opportunity there are few other places a 9 year old would rather be when they are chasing a frog through buttercups on a sunny day. When we came back in Anna had a real treat for everyone, she had brought along a puss moth which is as hairy as a cat, a wooly bear caterpillar with a wicked hair do, some painted laidy cocoons and to top it all off a Giant African land snail. I know this isn’t a native species but there are few things that will grab the attention of a 12 year old and make them think about wildlife than a giant snail! Even the older group which started off very apprehensive were captivated by the oddities that we placed before them including a blue tailed damselfly and small copper that we had caught with the previous group. Wildlife isn’t cool at that age until you find out that damselflies see in slow motion or that a puss moth caterpillar looks like a terrifying fat clown from your nightmares! By the end of the day they wanted us to come back every week and show them something else but hopefully now a seed has been planted and they will go and look for themselves!