First of all, this blog is a slightly belated one, so my apologies, but it’s just been so busy! I’ve been keeping a little tally and so far I’ve attended 40 events and spoken to over 3100 people. That’s a lot of talking – my heartfelt apologies to everyone who’s been forced to listen to me.
Its ranged from the tiny – 4 schoolchildren taking part in an arts project or 5 members of a community group meeting around a kitchen table – to the ginormous – over 1000 people stopped to chat at our table where we were making seedbombs and showing off minibeasts at Palacerigg country park’s Spring fling (top tip, position yourself next to the table that’s giving out free crème eggs to ensure maximum audience numbers…).
But the key thing is that (almost!) all of it has been fun! Palacerigg was a great example in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat as an organisational hiccup left our usual engagement kit languishing in a locked office 40 miles away from the event. A frantic rummage through the office unveiled an old fish tank and some magnifying glasses – that’ll be a home-made mini beast habitat then! It was pretty miserable weather unfortunately, but it’s amazing what stories you can tell with a couple of spiders, a beetle, two earthworms and a New Zealand flatworm. It was great to see the Cumbernauld team in action at a big event like this and how they took the adversity in their stride and produced a top class activity out of the materials they had lying around.
I rather rashly said in my last blog that I needed more experience working with children, and I’ve certainly had that. To be honest, I’m a bit scared of young kids sometimes, I’m worried that I won’t be able to entertain them, or that one will get hurt while I’m looking after them. I used to describe them as being like little sharks, circling around me, sensing the blood and fear in the water…
I’ve had to get over that! I’ve been assisting with a Natural Connections project which has seen me going in to local secondary and primary schools trying to get the young people more connected with nature. For the past few weeks I’ve been spending Tuesdays at Westfield Primary School, along with other staff and volunteers from the Scottish Wildlife Trust, taking their four p5-p7 classes through a series of workshops designed to make them more aware of the habitats and wildlife around them and how human behaviour affects that.
We’ve hunted minibeasts, played with skulls, (fake!)poo, pelts and pawprints, acted as animal estate agents, played musical trees and pretended to be everything from grass to sparrohawks. It’s been a bit of a baptism of fire, 100+ kids a day all full of energy and enthusiasm. There’s been a few surprises but the biggest one I think was on the final session of the final day as I waved the last class away, still busily buzzing away pretending to be bumblebees collecting pollen, and I realised I was really going to miss them!
We also ran a competition in the Primary schools to name our new Pine Marten mascot (I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but Cumbernauld is 50% green space and some of that green space contains Pine Martens!). So far I haven’t had to appear in public in the Pine Marten suit, but I suspect I have that in my future… Milish, a Gaelic name meaning ‘Sweet’ was the fitting winner of the naming competition. My suggestion of Piney McPineMarten was unfortunately ruled out on the spurious grounds that I’m 30 years too old to be taking part in the competition. Discrimination in its worst form I’m sure you’ll agree.
I also had a group of kids from the local YMCA out doing some kick sampling in the river (just at the spot where some bloke from the TV series Outlander famously comes out the river without his shirt on if anyone is interested. I don’t know why he didn’t have his shirt on, it’s pretty cold down there if you ask me, definite health and safety issue). This was another great experience, I would never have done this on my own as I’d have been terrified for the safety of so many little kids in the river but it was great to be shown how it could be done safely and to see how much fun the children had.
At the other end of the school age scale I helped out with teenagers of St Maurice’s, Greenfaulds and Cumbernauld Academy as they took part in their own sessions designed to bring them closer to nature. I was privileged to be invited along to see the young people from St Maurice’s putting on their end of project event and receiving their well-deserved John Muir awards for the work they’ve been doing with us. It was genuinely inspiring to see them being justly recognised having achieved so much and I hope they were as proud of themselves as we were of them!
Actually, sticking with schools for a bit, I was also out with a bunch of teachers from St Maurice’s in the local woodland, helping to give them a crash course in basic woodland skills like fire and shelter building. It was a successful afternoon, so much so that one of the teachers described it excitedly as the “best day of my life” – the giant toasted marshmallow she was wolfing down may have had something to do with that!
Other learning opportunities…
I’ve had formal training days in Forest Skills and Leadership skills with TCV and managed to wangle a trip down to the Lake District for John Muir Leaders training (this was not, despite everyone’s doubts, a jolly, in any sense of the word. Honest.).
Most of the training has been informal however, just learning from the people around me here in Cumbernauld and from the other trainees. Lucy’s FEVA conference was brilliant as was Jess and Stephen’s woodland biodiversity day at Lionthorn woodlands. I got to try my hand out at leading a section of that walk and taking people through some mammal tracking techniques which was great fun in the sunshine and seemed to be successful which was a great relief. Jess and Stephen’s sections on lichen and tree surveying were the stars of the show though and I feel like I learned a lot. And from TCV’s Rosie, who led a masterclass in how to keep a fractious very young child amused on a day not really designed for children!
I also helped out at an event at Lochore Meadows with Carolyn and Jenny. Jenny and I led a pond dipping section which had about 100-125 children come through – at one point we had about 40 kids but only 5 nets! It was great to tap into some of Jenny’s skills here; she was brilliant at leading the kids through the session and keeping them safe and entertained.
The volunteer group has been going well and have done a power of work clearing paths, planting trees, picking litter, cutting back vegetation and planting wildflowers. They’re a fantastic bunch of people and it’s brilliant seeing people out giving back to the nature in their own community. I have unfortunately also seen the slightly darker side of this as well – after one session where we planted over 150 wildflower plugs by the side of a trail, I was dismayed to come back a couple of days later and find someone had been along behind us and pulled them all out again. This was really disappointing, but contains its own lesson I suppose. I think my instinct would have been to stop planting but as we had lots more wildflowers to go in we decided to go ahead and on the next session planted over 600 wildflower plugs in another location – which I’m pleased to say are still in the ground and thriving! We’ve also had problems with persistent fires and littering at another site, but no matter how persistent the people smashing bottles and setting fires are, we’re determined we’ll be more persistent in clearing it up!
In amongst all this I’ve also been involved in my own 5 ways well project, but as this blog has now reached epic proportions, I’m going to save that for a special blog of its own!
Coming up I’ve got lots more events (I think I’m working every weekend until September!) starting with Denny galaday this weekend and Gardening Scotland next. I’m going to really try to get more of my training budget spent, and I’m going to continue to explore the green spaces of Cumbernauld (which will take some time, as they actually amount to 50% of the town).
Last but not least I can’t leave without sharing this 20 second video that Tracy took while we were in the Bluebell Woods of Cumbernauld Glen – it absolutely took my breath away, to think we have this world class natural spectacle right on our doorstep. It made me even more determined to never stop fighting for our wild places.