With more time spent in and around our homes and gardens this year it’s not surprising many of us have developed, or rekindled, a love of nature. Here Michael from our Eco Explorers and FOOD Club projects outlines how an idyllic rural childhood led to an ongoing love of the outdoors, and how he continues to channel that love into his work and life today.
I live in a large city now, but that hasn’t always been the case. I grew up in a very rural area of Scotland surrounded by open fields and my dad got me interested in nature and gardening from an early age – something that’s stayed with me and influenced both my professional and personal life ever since. Having benefitted from time spent outdoors myself – whether through exploring the fields around my house as a child or taking a walk to forget about the stress and strains of busy working days – I’ve always been keen to get children and families involved in nature and help them appreciate the outdoors too.
As a teacher, my love of nature influenced my decision to set up and run gardening clubs for my pupils. For me, it was all about breaking down barriers to education and helping them to grow and develop as individuals. All aspects of gardening – from planning the garden and choosing what to grow to digging, planting and watering the plants – helped children grow their confidence, interact with each other, take pride in their local environment, learn more about the wildlife on their doorstep and get involved in the local community. I even managed to get each child in my school to plant their own tree in the school grounds (I don’t do things by half – all 400+ children got one), as part of the Jubilee celebrations. And we had a huge, amazing outdoor picnic together involving families, all the local community groups, police and children’s centres.
“It was amazing to hear from children and their parents about all the new produce families had tried.“
It was while working as a Deputy Head and then Headteacher that I first became truly aware of the huge amount of food going to waste and to UK landfill, and it was at this stage that I first got involved with FareShare, a charity that Family Action now works closely with as part of its FOOD Clubs. I started an afterschool club using surplus food provided by FareShare – as well as weekly “pay as you feel” fruit and veg stalls for parents. It was amazing to hear from children and their parents about all the new produce families had tried and what recipes they were planning with their new fruit and veg. And, of course, it was a great way to reduce the amount of food going to landfill.
As for so many people, the last year has been very challenging. I’m used to whizzing about the country by car as part of my role but have recently found myself working from home more. I’m missing meeting people face to face and visiting new places but, on the positive side, I’ve really started to take notice of my local environment. I look forward to my daily walk and exploring new paths and wonder what wildlife and plants I’ll see along the way.
Read about some ways to enjoy nature outside with your children.
Being at home more, and simply having more time in the evenings, has meant that over the last few months I’ve discovered a real passion to find out about the different local wildlife in my garden. Take the grey squirrels who keep popping in – I’ve just been reading about how much damage they cause. And did you know it’s dangerous to feed birds peanuts if they pass them onto their young? I didn’t – but I do now. Either way, I’ve made bird feeders featuring less dangerous foods for the huge numbers of birds that seem to have found my garden during lockdown.
Why not try one of our Wildlife Wednesday family activities – learn to be a tree detective, make a bug hotel, make your own bird food, get involved in the big garden bird watch … and much more!
I may live in a city and I may not have a big garden or open fields outside but what I’ve re-discovered in the last few months is that nature is all about us if we just take the time to notice. You just need to step outside your front door and look and listen and you’ll find a huge amount of fascinating wildlife… wildlife that I’m keen to promote and care for. I’m currently looking into plants for my window sill that might encourage more butterflies and bees. Ideas anyone?
Family Action is currently running Eco Explorers sessions in Manchester to engage children and families in nature–themed activities (e.g. making bird feeders, scavenger hunts). Find our more by visiting our Holiday Hub webpage.