Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Staying Wild

Lingering in a forest against an increasingly darkening night, listening to the paranormal churring of nightjars, watching their angular silhouettes carve through the dusky sky. This is how I spent one evening in June, part of ’30 Days Wild’. An incredible experience and a life ‘tick’ for me, it was a wildlife spectacle I’d been longing to see. But that’s not all I discovered when making the most of those 30 days.

I’m a high school science teacher and I escape from the trials and tribulations of term time by venturing to nature reserves and wild places at the weekends. It’s something I’ve come to see as essential for my wellbeing and to keep myself human. However, what ’30 Days Wild’ made me realise, by attempting to record what I’d done, is that I actually do something wild every day without realising it. It’s something that generates conversations with colleagues and pupils too, even if it is just to check that I’m OK because I’m rescuing earthworms from the playground.

I tried to publicise ’30 Days Wild’ at work, to other members of staff and pupils. I got permission to show ‘Project Wild Thing’ to my two PSHE classes. The message didn’t get through to all of them, but one girl saw me after a lesson to tell me she had downloaded the ‘Wild Time’ App and she was spending more time outside as a result. A colleague found me to tell me an orchid was growing outside one of the offices, so we banded together to make sure the contractors didn’t mow the lawn. I took out our STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine) Club to scatter more wildflower seeds in our wildlife area / meadow. We made bee hotels and found suitable locations for them, which the girls who attended the club really enjoyed. The trouble is, most pupils are already so distanced and disengaged from the natural world, despite living in a rural community, that it can be difficult to reignite the spark of curiosity and interest in their young minds; especially when there are so many other things to compete with.

In Norfolk, it felt like it rained every single day in June, which meant there were some days where I had to get a little more creative. We had recently moved house, so as well as watching wildlife at work, I was spending my spare time turning our garden into a wildlife haven. I researched and bought bee friendly flowers – sedum, polemonium, honeysuckle, scabious, geranium (cranesbill, not the plants that most call ‘geraniums’ but are actually pelargoniums) – then tried to photograph and identify the bees that visited them. We installed an insect hotel, which, at the time of writing in early August, is slowly being populated by leaf cutter bees. I planted and harvested pollinator friendly herbs in hanging baskets and we watched the birds and their fledglings march around our little garden. The fast favourites were the fledgling pied wagtails who would feed, then patrol along the washing, occasionally cleaning their bills on our clothes. Of course, we visited nature reserves too, including one of our usual haunts, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, where we were lucky enough to spot a particularly obliging swallowtail butterfly, a Norfolk hawker dragonfly, as well as a scarce chaser and an otter all in one visit.

Nature reserves have their place and there is no way I’d ever want to be without them, but what ’30 Days Wild’ has made me realise is that it’s the little everyday encounters with and interactions about nature that matter. It’s the ‘drip, drip, drip’ rather than one big experience that will make more people care about the things we already love, how it is a part of and an enhancement to our lives. Not just limited to a few areas, but all around us, wherever we are. 


  1. Excellent post Sarah. When I worked at NWT I was engaged in a project called Natural Connections which had at its core the aim of reconnecting people with their natural heritage. It made me realise how removed most folk are from the natural world but also how quick they can be to appreciate what is around them once they learn to open their eyes and ears. It is people like you who do this simply by enthusing them with your own enthusiasm. It can be disheartening at times, but then someone will tell you that you inspired them to do something with nature that gave them pleasure and it all becomes worthwhile. Keep up the good work, you're doing a great job.

    1. Thank you for your comment, ever since I read Richard Louv's book 'Last Child in the Woods' before I became a teacher, I decided to make it a mission. It would be so much better if there was any natural history written into the National Curriculum at KS3 and KS4.