Here at Skelton Grange, our busy schedule of practical conservation, volunteer training, and outdoor learning sessions have been put on hold since the spread of COVID-19, leaving lots of our staff on furlough and volunteers’ traineeships disrupted. We have greatly missed being at Skelton Grange and our community of volunteers but are glad to be slowly returning into normality as far as government guidelines allow us to. Whilst our centre was closed, we got in touch with our Volunteer Officers and Natural Heritage Trainees to see if they would be interested in completing the John Muir Award as a way of keeping busy and engaged in nature as well as sharing their findings with fellow colleagues through weekly Zoom catch up calls. This blog post documents the work our team have achieved and would like to share, in the hopes of inspiring others to protect our wild places.
John Muir, a Scottish born nature-lover who later grew up in the US, developed a passion for wild places and a desire to protect them. His writings have inspired others to understand and care for nature and in doing so, created the world’s first National Parks system in Yosemite Valley.
Inspired by his work, the John Muir Trust launched the John Muir Award in 1997. This is an environmental award scheme aimed at encouraging people to connect with, enjoy, and care for wild places. It has 4 aspects: Discover, Explore, Conserve, Share.
Volunteers undertook the John Muir Award about a wild or green space near where they live and used it as a way of exploring and learning whilst under lockdown. It has been really great to see people bring their own interests and skills into the presenting of information as well as into what they are researching, and we have discovered a whole range of talents in our volunteers that we would love to utilise in our future work. Most of our volunteers have achieved the Explorer Award (8 days of work) but some are looking to extend their project and achieve the Conserver Award (minimum of 20 days over 6 months).
Here are some examples of the work produced by our volunteers:
Surrounded by the beautiful Welsh countryside, Abi C had a wealth of inspiration for her John Muir project. To reach a wide audience, Abi set up a public blog and Instagram page to share in real-time her adventures across the mountains. Her content focuses on local wildlife, nature trails and public access, as well as helpful ‘how-to’ guides for practical conservation activities such as building a bird box! She had some amazing wildlife encounters and even set up a wildlife camera to capture footage of foxes and deer! These were well received among the nature lovers of Skelton Grange during the Zoom calls. Check out Abi’s inspiring blog here https://wildgirlwanders.home.blog/ and Instagram – @wildgirlwanders – to keep in the loop with all things wild!
“I really enjoyed how much it made me appreciate my local area, something that’s right on my doorstep and that I see every day, but it made me see it in a different way. I loved finding out more about it, from the history of the area to learning what plants and animals were there. Normally I just take my dog there, but it was nice going without the dog sometimes and climbing trees or just sitting and watching.
It was also really interesting seeing the place change during lockdown – having a rise in people visiting and then a rise in litter but then it calmed down again and is back to normal now. Thanks to the John Muir Award I now feel much more attached to the area and I feel like I could never get sick of it, there’s still so much to learn and I’m looking forward to appreciating it in all the different seasons!”
Here are some great photos from Freya’s time spent in her chosen wild place:
“It was great to spend more time in my local woods, finding new things and gaining a new appreciation for it, where I might have taken it for granted in the 21 years I’ve had access to it. I enjoyed working on my film-making and editing skills when creating my shareable project and taking the time to venture into less disturbed areas of the woodland.
Through my research and increased familiarity with these woods, I became more confident in talking to other people I came across during my walks, helping educate them about the impacts of litter and pollution. I also became more confident in nature ID, mainly trees and fungi, which will be great transferrable skills during education sessions at Skelton.
Simply put, it was just great to be out in nature as being outdoors is essential for my mental health, which I think a lot of us have struggled with over the past few months.”
Check out Abi’s short film, ‘Nature’, which documents her exploration and conservation efforts in the hope of inspiring others to conserve the environment: https://youtu.be/8tDp-EZc3kU
Exploring the depths of his garden, Neil has produced a comprehensive account of the species he has spotted and identified. He spent a lot of time researching interesting facts about these species and sharing them with the group in our Zoom calls. Check out his presentation he produced to share his findings:
Neil has also been involved in the Wildlife Friendly Otley social media posts, documenting species across the Otley area. Like his John Muir presentation, his posts are filled with interesting facts! Follow Wildlife Friendly Otley at www.facebook.com/wildlifefriendlyotley to see more of his fantastic work!