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Creating early connections with nature

Firstly I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Gemma Woodford and I’ve recently started working with Cumbernauld Living Landscape as the Creating Natural Connections learning assistant. I’ll be going into primary schools throughout Cumbernauld to run environmental workshops and activities with children in classes 5-7, with the workshops running throughout term time. In previous years it was thought that education could only be provided if you were in the four walls of a classroom. Now, it’s becoming evident that children can gain all the necessary skills and knowledge set by the curriculum for excellence whilst being outdoors. Our aim at Cumbernauld Living Landscape is to connect children with nature through outdoor learning, and feel not only is it important that children learn about their natural heritage, but that spending time outdoors helps to improve their health and wellbeing. Research has shown that even just 5 minutes of playing outdoors can decrease a child’s stress and anxiety. With a clearer mind, and calmer approach this could then improve the child’s abilities in other classes. Outside of school, children may not

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Connect to the Nectar Network

Earlier this month the team had a brilliant time at St Maurice’s Pond, bug hunting and pond dipping with a group of pupils preparing to make the leap from primary to high school. We saw all sorts of wildlife, but it was the butterflies that stole the show. So once the kids had gone and everything was quiet once more, we decided to get down to some serious counting for Butterfly Conservation’s annual ‘Big Butterfly Count’. Walking through the tall grass and vibrant wildflowers that surround the pond, we soon realised that we were going to need a bigger recording sheet! This summer saw the largest number of painted lady butterflies migrate across Scotland in a decade, and Cumbernauld was no exception. We counted a phenomenal 71 of them, plus many other species including small tortoiseshell, large white and peacock. By allowing ourselves to slow down and take notice we also came across other surprises, like a hefty elephant hawk moth caterpillar and a stunning hawker dragonfly. The whole place was teeming with life. The kind of naturalised grassland found

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Where has the summer gone?

Over the summer I’ve had the pleasure of working with around 60 children transitioning from Primary 7 to first year through the brilliant Home School Partnership Officers (worth their weight in gold) at Greenfaulds and St Maurice’s High. The children were out pond dipping, insect hunting, scavenger hunting and making smores or tea in nature reserves in the town, and they loved it. I hope to extend this to the two other high schools in the town next year!   It got me thinking back to when I was just starting high school: the thoughts and feelings that were rushing through my head at the time, and how I learned to cope with it all. With schools starting back this week the students are getting ready for more than just education. For many it is a time of making new friendships. Some will last a lifetime, others fleeting but it is these experiences which shape them up to become the adults of the future. It’s a time for getting lost in new surroundings, learning how to map out the school

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Celebrating Cumbernauld’s future

The sun was shining, the bees were buzzing and the town was buzzing too as Cumbernauld prepared for Friday’s visit from the Queen. She spent her time at Greenfaulds High School, where she met with pupils and community members while being treated to a performance from the North Lanarkshire Council School’s Pipe Band. Greenfaulds is just one of the schools we’re working with as part of our mission to connect more young people in Cumbernauld with the nature on their doorstep. Our 6-month Natural Connections programme supports pupils as they make improvements to their local greenspaces, learning new skills and building confidence along the way. The royal event was called ‘a celebration of Cumbernauld’s past and future’. Cumbernauld has been through a lot of changes during the Queen’s time. Designated a New Town only two years into her reign, we’ve seen our greenspaces shrink and become fewer and farther between. There are fewer homes for wildlife, and we seem to be spending less and less time outdoors. But with the help of our partners, our volunteers and programme participants we’re

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30 days of wild Cumbernauld

The Wildlife Trust runs an annual event over the month of June connecting people to nature every day under the name #30DaysWild. Tasks range from reading poetry in the garden to planting trees or flowers for pollinators. A massive number of organisations join us in connecting with and exploring nature. The Cumbernauld Living Landscape team thought we would add our own twist to an old favourite. In past years we have focused on wildlife, showing different species that you can easily find in your gardens, parks and woodlands. From tiny insect pollinators to deer grazing on the grasslands, there has always been something to see. This year we tried something different. Our new Creating Natural Connections project vision is “People and nature at the heart of Cumbernauld’s future”, and what better time to begin that ethos than during the #30DaysWild campaign.   We know that there are still a lot of people in the town who do not know of the beautiful sites that they can visit. This month we brought nature to you through events, both in and outdoors,

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Why ‘messy’ wildflower meadows are great for wildlife

We often debate which cleaning product is better for keeping germs at bay, and how Feng the Shui of our homes should be. And sometimes our thoughts and wishes for everything to be clean and pristine are carried into the natural world. I’ve had countless discussions with people who think “it’s lovely to see the grass cut and neat” or “that lawn is pristine, it’s just like a golf course”. Sadly, while they are neat and tidy, they are also artificial and limited in animal and plant species. Wildflower meadows are sometimes undervalued because they look untidy compared to a formal flowerbed, but the amount of life they can sustain is incredible. A true meadow consists of native species with a mix of sizes and flowering times, and a large variety of grasses swaying in the wind as if they are being led by a maestro. Part of this is due to companies advertising non-native plants in a mass of floral beauty. This is an artificial situation. Many of these plants will only last one season as they are not

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Please don’t tiptoe through our bluebells

It turns out people who are trying to get the perfect photo of a bluebell are in danger of killing them off. The UK woodlands are home to approximately 50% of the world’s population of bluebells, which are incredibly delicate and beautiful flowers. Cumbernauld’s wildlife reserves, including Cumbernauld Glen, Seafar Wood and Luggiebank, feature dazzling displays of these plants, which have taken centuries to colonise in our town through a symbiotic relationship with ancient oak woodlands. Walking off the paths puts our native bluebell at risk of being destroyed by trampling. Cumbernauld Living Landscape has held a number of bluebell walks over the years. During these events I always have to regularly remind people not to walk off the path. These bluebells are vitally important plants for pollinators especially when during the false starts to spring that we have experienced here in recent years. Certain plants can shut off systems if a leaf of branch is broken, diseased or cut, this isn’t the case with our native bluebell. Damage sustained is damage retained. While this may sound like a soundbite

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Masterchef goes wild

I held my last workshop of the school year year with St Maurice’s High School last week. This session gave me a chance to observe the change in these incredible young people and to express what I saw to them, as they move on from school towards employment or continued further education. While it was tinged with sadness to see another group coming to an end, I was also filled with pride and admiration for the young people in the group and how far they have come. With the weather behaving, we finally managed to run the outdoor cooking element of the Creating Natural Connections workshops. This is a session which encourages teamwork, listening, independent working and cooperation. It has very dry over the past couple of weeks so we set our fire in small barbecue buckets. We managed to cook sausages, pancakes, marshmallows and – adding a cultural edge from Cyprus – halloumi cheese! I have never been able to get so much cooked before in one session and was amazed to see everyone wolfed down the food in

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From the mouths of babes

I’ve been asked many times if I think that conservation has a future. There are some environmental issues that aren’t always clear cut, and at times it can be difficult to express the benefits of protecting our environment due to background noise. Additional pressures from large companies who lobby politicians to curb environmental protections for the benefit of the economy, often only look at their needs and requirements and not the big picture. Their arguments tend to be one sided without consideration for the negative impact they have on the natural world. And then a young girl speaks up and does the impossible. The whole world is talking about Greta Thunburg. At the age of 15 this young girl decided to hold a strike one Friday afternoon outside the Swedish Parliament to get politicians to listen and take action to mitigate climate change. They are not the only ones listening, this one young girl’s action has created a movement around the world. Arguably, this one young girl has done more in the past few months than any politician or scientist

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What can we do about rubbish?

Litter. Everyone hates it, and yet it remains one of our biggest environmental problems. From the cigarette ends and dog poo bags to fly-tipped furniture, it seems like litter is everywhere in our woodlands, parks and streams. No doubt you’ll have heard aware of the waste epidemic in ours sea, but did you know that an estimated 80% of this marine litter is a result of irresponsible disposal on land? So, who is responsible and more importantly who should be cleaning it up? Well to be honest we all are, and we all should! It takes a few seconds to make a difference by pick some litter up and binning it or taking it home. We often get comments that we should do more to clean up our local reserves. What people don’t realise at times is that charities such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust only have limited resources. This has to go towards on the ground conservation work, from planting trees to working on important projects like reintroducing the beaver. We do what we can to deal with fly-tipping and