If you spent any time in Central Scotland in the 80s you can’t fail to have heard that slogan. It’s held in great affection here in Cumbernauld and even today if you repeat it to any local you’ll be greeted by a friendly two fingered wave.
But like it or not, it’s probably the good side of the town’s public relations. The kids in the advert might be acting cheery only under extreme duress (I’m assuming someone is holding a puppy hostage just off screen) but at least they’re smiling, at least it’s a positive image.
Cumbernauld doesn’t get much good press. While I was certainly aware of the “what’s it called” slogan in the 80s, by the time I reached my formative years in the 90s Cumbernauld was known mainly for being somewhere you were very glad you didn’t have to live.
By the 2000s this was becoming clear to everyone. The town was winning awards left right and centre – but not necessarily awards you’d want to win… the never ending stretches of grey concrete and brutalist architecture, the flat roofs that leaked almost as soon as they were installed, the biting winds that whistled through the tunnel like streets, footpaths that went nowhere and the road system which seemed expressly designed to confuse and frustrate drivers. Cumbernauld won the Carbuncle award for terrible architecture twice – and a local councillor suggested it should be automatically awarded it every year. The UK public voted the whole town centre into first place in a poll of places that should be demolished for a channel 4 TV series. The town of Chernobyl even started legal proceedings to distance itself after people in Scotland began comparing it to Cumbernauld (that last one might not be totally true).
The massive advertising campaign that saturated our screens and billboards in Scotland focused quite heavily on the modern living and leisure opportunities the town will have to offer, but most of these are now long gone – who would have thought that water-skiing in the driving rain and freezing temperatures up on the Slammanan Plateau wouldn’t catch on?
That was the environment I was looking forward to when I first started here with the Cumbernauld Living Landscape – not exactly high expectations. I’m a pessimist at heart, usually looking for the worst in any place or situation, but it did seem, even to me, that the views above didn’t represent the full picture. In all the talk of boating lochs, skating rinks, football pitches, nightclubs and cinemas there does seem to be something missing…
What about all the trees? You can’t help but notice as you drive through the town that there are actually large areas of green all around. A quick bit of research online will tell you that the Scottish Wildlife Trust has no less than four wildlife reserves in Cumbernauld – they can’t all be full of concrete and windsurfers can they?
Believe it or not Cumbernauld, with all its concrete and bricks and tarmac is actually 50% green space (have I mentioned that before?). The windsurfers might not fancy the lochans on Fannyside Muir but Scotland’s only population of Taiga Bean Geese do. There are otters in the streams and badgers in the woods, there are orchids and bluebells, towering Scots pine and ancient oak forests.
I’ve travelled all the way to the Cairngorms in the past in the hope of catching a glimpse of a Pine Marten – in 2014 Cumbernauld Living Landscape found evidence of them living in Cumbernauld (and we’ve had several sightings – plus a lot of poo! – again this year. Goshawks? You see them in Cumbernauld Glen. Red Deer? Forestwood. Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary? Regularly spotted at St Maurice’s Pond. A native bluebell display that would take your breath away? Back to Cumbernauld Glen again! I’ve spent hours in hides waiting to see Red Squirrels – we’ve had our first confirmed sighting in the town this year, possibly off the back of the Pine Marten returning.
I’ve spent a lot of time out with the Wild Ways Well project exploring the green routes round the town and out with the Natural Connections project discovering some of the sites in detail and it constantly amazes me just how beautiful a town Cumbernauld is once you get away from the roads and the concrete. This is a town full of natural wonders – a place to be proud of, not somewhere to avoid.
That’s a message the CLL is constantly trying to get across and I’ve been doing my own small part via a number of events around the town, from galadays to volunteer days, guided walks and family fun days. The message is slowly getting out there, people are amazed when you tell them the Pine Marten story (or even better when they come to see you because one of their kids has told them about it after hearing it at school!). They love to hear about all the creatures that live around about them and usually it isn’t long before they start telling you their own little story about an encounter with a fox or a badger, or the birds they feed in the garden. We put a board up at a recent event for people to write down the wildlife they’d spotted in Cumbernauld and people were queueing up to use it and get their dot put firmly on the wildlife map.
That’s the thing really, if all anyone talks about is the negatives (and of course there still are negatives!) then that’s all that people will think about. I’ll make no apologies now for talking up Cumbernauld at every opportunity. Yes the town centre is a concrete monstrosity, yes it still suffers the social problems that any large town does, yes I still get lost every time I try to take the car anywhere. But sit in one of the wildlife reserves, feel the trees at your back, smell the flowers at your feet, hear the birds sing and the bees drone and keep your eyes on the treetops looking for Pine Martens or Red Squirrels (or very confused badgers) and know that there are few places in Central Scotland that can provide a natural experience as good as this.
Events wise June and July were incredibly busy but it was great to get out and enjoy the greenspaces, a lot of weekend work but it’s worth it! Highlights for me were probably the first weekend in July where I was left to organise two events on the Saturday and Sunday. To say I was nervous would be an understatement! I had a lot of support from the people in the office here and at the Scottish Wildlife Trust in general, especially from Tracy Lambert who’d done much of the groundwork and had left me with copious notes, but at the end of the day it was only me who would be responsible if it all went wrong…
It didn’t thankfully. We had aimed for around 30 people coming to the first event – pond dipping, seed bombing and family fun at St Maurice’s – but in the end we counted 85 people coming through our marquee in the pouring rain! It was hectic but it was great fun, and such a relief that it all went well (due mainly to Nick from the SWT and volunteers Louise and Gemma from CLL for their help on the day!).
Second event was a bit more low key just taking the Natural Connections volunteers plus a delegation from Police Scotland’s Youth Volunteers on an introduction to wildlife recording session round Cumbernauld Glen. Still a bit of a nervy one though as it was very unusual task for the volunteer group who are more used to planting wildflowers and digging out paths than wildlife recording. This was the first session that the Police Scotland Youth group would be involved in as well and I was keen to make a good impression as we hope to get more involved with this group. Again it all went fine, everyone seemed to enjoy the walk and we shared a lot of wildlife info with each other as we went. We topped it all off with some Kelly kettles, some toasted marshmallows and some environmental art in the woods which was a bit of a change of pace. There was one black spot on my record as we didn’t do the Balsam pulling that had been planned down by the river but on the day I just didn’t feel confident enough in ensuring the safety of the Youth Volunteers – who I’d never met before – working next to the water. In hindsight I was probably being too cautious but it is at least a lesson learned. On the plus side though it was good to give the Wild Walks I’ve been working on their first run out as the group followed the route of one of them.
Other than that, it’s been a busy few weeks since my last blog, I think I’ve had an event on every weekend; I’ve attended training on leading kid’s Wildlife Watch groups, Sensory Awareness and Green Gyms – as well as the trainee get together in Leeds where we had sessions on resilience and some fantastic skill sharing sessions from the other trainees where I feel like I learned so much about foraging, baking bread on fires, bugs, slugs and bees! I got a chance to spend a couple of hours up on Fannyside Muir with Buglife’s Scott Shanks which was amazing – what a place! It was great to have a wander around (and get an introduction to the bog – and I got to make another dot on the wildlife recording map by spotting a kestrel hovering overhead as Scott spoke, a first for the site apparently (the kestrel that is, I think Scott has spoken there loads of times).
It was with a great deal of sadness that I said goodbye to the crew from the first set of Wild Ways Well sessions. I’m really going to miss going out with them all on a Thursday, catching up on their lives and sharing the green spaces of Cumbernauld with each other. I had to miss the very last session which was the evaluation interviews but I believe it all went well and hopefully it’s something we can start up again soon. The evaluation process is in full swing and I’m looking forward to finding out how it all went from the participants point of view.
We’re currently in a gap between groups at the moment, the second set of session will be running with some secondary students from a local school – a very different audience from the first group. We’ll be trying a few different methods with this group as well, so it’ll be interesting to see the the differences. The third group is still a little up in the air at the moment, it’s pretty hard finding a suitable group of people who can all match the same dates but I’m working through a big list of contacts and I’m confident we’ll get there!
And finally… it wouldn’t be a blog from me if I didn’t mention poo… Not only was the poo game out in force at events this month (and watch our for a new improved version coming soon!) but we got actual real members of the public to sniff actual real poo! A “discover” walk around Forestwood Wildlife Reserve had the attendees discovering more than they’d bargained for when we came across some suspicious blue tinged piles in the middle of the path. Luckily we had some gloves along so everyone was able to dip their finger in and have a sniff – all completely voluntary I promise! After a quick confab we were all able to agree that there are definitely still Pine Martens in Forestwood – and they’ve been feasting on the Blaeberries!
That’s probably enough from me now! I’ll leave you with this video teaser for my personal project which I’ll hopefully introduce in the next blog – though rather than a hedgehog and plastic box it’ll hopefully involve a red squirrel and an ice cream tub…
(no hedgehogs were harmed in the following video! It’s just a home made feeding station designed to keep next door’s cat out of the hedgehog food!)