Saturday, 25 May 2013

Why gardening for wildlife is essential

“It takes time – loose, unstructured dreamtime – to experience nature in a meaningful way…”    “Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv
I love exploring the natural world, the things waiting to be discovered never cease to amaze and inspire me.  Its wonderful to go out on long walks in vast woodland or to traipse across moorland, or to explore the salt-marsh along a coastline…  But the wonders waiting for you at home if you ensure your own outside space is friendly for wild creatures are all the more soothing, inspiring and breath-taking

It doesn’t need to be a big space – even a window box can be as wildlife friendly as possible and bring you butterflies, beetles and birds.  My own garden is relatively small but I stepped out this morning and there were three buzzards soaring and calling overhead, swifts screeching past, dunnocks at my bird feeders, bees of all sizes busy on the various flowering plants, frogs and tadpoles in my (small) pond, butterflies fluttering through, the odd snail (they are beautiful creatures) curled up under a stone and wolf spiders waiting on logs…   I’d walked into the garden feeling quite stressed and tired after a very busy week of work - but was instantly soothed, amused and my interest awakened.
I need to feel a sense of gardening alongside nature – not against it.    I grow plants for food for me too and they grow well in my garden, I might lose the odd one to slugs but the frogs and birds help there; far more of a pest are the neighbourhood cats who see the soil in my garden as a great litter tray…



In making spaces for wildlife at home I think its vital that this is extended to the spaces in which children are educated.   I’ve worked on various schools projects to create wildlife-friendly spaces.  I’ve never met a child who has not been interested in one or another aspect of the natural world, but I’ve met many adults who don’t always see that a space for the discovery of worms, earwigs and spiders can be a wonderful educational tool.
Children need to connect with nature – and in doing so they find ways to understand themselves and the world in which they live.   They need opportunities to dig in the soil, to carefully see what lives under rocks, to watch tadpoles swim, to lie in long grass and find shapes in the clouds…   They need adults that value this and create the right spaces and time for this (and more) to happen.


I’m so lucky in my long-term residency at Dunkirk that we are developing quite a large outside space with the whole school.    We were calling it “the allotment” because it had been a place with vegetable beds; it still has those but as we have developed it in the last 3 years it also has so much more.    The children have re-named it “the Discovery Garden – the Land of Many Things” and we’ve been so busy developing the space.


Its an inner-city Nottingham site, next to the ring-road but also next the canal and a corridor of wildlife friendly areas such as the canal tow path, a local nature reserve and even the trees planted alongside the ring-road.  I’ve been so excited by what we’ve seen there – and the children are entranced.  We created a pond late last summer and its now teeming with creatures – no frogs yet but I am sure they will find it.   There are bees, birds, bugs of all kinds and so much more.    We grow food there too, we have a poly-tunnel, we have a fire area and are about to make a cob-oven, we have living willow domes, a mud-pie kitchen area, log seats and we let the grass grow long and the dandelions thrive…


Last week I spent the day there with the year two class.   We found a dead wood-pigeon chick on the grass and the children's response to this was incredibly touching.   They were really interested in what had killed it – was it a fox, a cat, an eagle, a hawk?   We certainly see a sparrowhawk regularly there and it provoked really interesting conversations about killing animals, food chains and death.   The children wanted to say prayers or words of thought (the school has children of many faiths and of no faith), they covered the bird in flowers and were incredibly respectful. 


Later I was with one of the girls looking at the seedlings in the poly-tunnel, when we found an exhausted bumble bee on the grass by the door.   She was in great danger of being trodden on, so we carefully picked her up and moved her to a place where she would be out of reach of feet.  The girl I was with was fascinated and asked wonderful questions and we were soon joined by a little group all eager to find out more and to help.  Could they feed the bee they asked?   They picked dandelions and daisies and so gently placed them nearby and were enthralled as the bee began to sup; they watched and discussed and chatted.  We talked about bees and what they need, that it was a girl bee and why she might be exhausted and what we could do to help.  They created a bee sanctuary in effect – and sure enough the bee did regain strength and fly away; at which point they danced for joy.   I don’t think a space devoid of dandelions would have let that happen.

Like many people, I adoreRichard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods”.   He makes some wonderful points in it about the necessity of children being able to study the nature in their own back yard and how “everyday nature” is the most powerful in engaging children with the natural world around them.   

“(What is) the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?”
Robert Michael Pyle in “Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv
“Children learn about the rain forest, but usually not about their own region’s forests, or, as Sobel puts it “even just the meadow outside the classroom door”” 
“Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv
I’ve been so privileged to share journeys with children as they explore nature and create things inspired by this.   I’ve seen a whole day spent making dens for ladybirds and hours spent creating birthday parties for worms with stories attached that resonated so deeply inside the children that created them.  Its vital that children grow up learning to love, respect and care for the world around them and for each other.   I think its often easier to begin very complex discussions by looking at what small creatures and plants might need – children who struggle to understand their own emotions are often very easily able to connect with what a ladybird might need to feel safe and secure.


Nature is in crisis in many ways, recent reports published  such as“State of Nature” have highlighted so much that we need to be mindful of.  We risk more that we can know if we don’t give children meaningful access to the natural world.

I could go on and on about it – but the tadpoles in my pond seem to be doing a really amazing swimming display and much as I love exploring the issues around it all I need to be out and indulging in it too!
“isolated patches of wild land are valuable to know… these islands of nature are important for the young who live in surrounding or adjacent neighbourhoods”
“Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv:

“The quiet wisdom of nature does not try to mislead you like the landscape of a city does, with billboards and ads everywhere.  It doesn’t make you feel like you have to conform to any image.  It’s just there, and it accepts everyone.”
“Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv,  quoting Erin Lau.

“Nature – the sublime, the harsh, the beautiful – offers something that the street or gated community or computer game cannot.  Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity… Immersion in the natural environment cuts to the chase, exposes the young directly and immediately to the very elements from which humans evolved: earth, water, air and other living kin, large and small.  Without that experience, as Chawla says, “We forget our place; we forget that larger fabric on which our lives depend.””
“Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv. 
“If education and other forces, intentionally or unintentionally, continue to push the young away from direct experience in nature, the cost to science itself will be high.  Most scientists today began their careers as children, chasing bugs and snakes, collecting spiders, and feeling awe in the presence of nature.  Since such untidy activities are fast disappearing, how, then, will our future scientists learn about nature?”
“Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv







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