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Winter Blues

As I write this I’m huddled over a steaming mug of tea, wearing my warmest jumper and waiting for the forecast sleet to start falling outside. I console myself with the thought that, though it might not feel like it, spring is on the way. It probably hasn’t escaped long-term readers of these blogs that I’m no fan of winter! I’m not always right though— Aristotle said that “To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.” And for John Steinbeck “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” Get outdoors and go looking and it won’t take you long to spot the signs of nature coming back to life. The trees are already full of bud and the tips of the first bulbs are poking through the ground, ready to bring us snowdrops and daffodils, with primroses not far behind. Robins and blackbirds are singing already at dawn, eager for the spring to come, and it won’t be long before we start to notice

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World Mental Health Day

This Thursday is World Mental Health Day, a day created to promote conversations about mental health and reduce stigma. This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention’. Countless studies have shown that spending time outdoors in natural green spaces is vital for our mental health. Our Wild Ways Well project demonstrates this as we explore Cumbernauld’s nature reserves and spend time socialising, learning and giving back to nature. The effect this has on people is evidence-based and it is real— stepping out into the woods really does change lives. However it’s important to remember that this project isn’t just for those already suffering from poor mental health. It’s also a great preventative, everyone can benefit from a daily dose of nature. Stepping out into the woods really does change lives Through all our project streams we promote positive mental health every day. We talk about it at schools and public events, and we give talks and presentations to organisations from all sectors of the community. We lead by example, showing how our work can help and telling our

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Leave no trace

The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Seafar Wildlife Reserve is one of my favourite places in Cumbernauld to visit. The Trust is working hard to change the structure of the woodlands, helping native trees and wildflowers to flourish in the new light, open spaces. More native trees and flowers means more insects like butterflies and dragonflies, which in turn leads to more birds and mammals. Already you can see signs of this change. The reserve is popular with the public too, and because we spend a lot of time here the Wild Ways Well team feels a bit of responsibility towards it. A few weeks ago we had a litter pick and removed ten bin bags of litter, plus a family-sized inflatable paddling pool and a destroyed picnic bench, all from one tiny area. The saddest part was all the broken glass. It’s awful to think of barefooted children playing there, and of the animals who call Seafar home. Wildlife can be badly affected by litter, eating it, becoming entangled or injuring themselves. A cut paw for a badger, without access to

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Getty Arty in the Outdoors

There are few things in the world more beautiful than the nature that is all around us. Think about the all the amazing paintings, stories, songs, poems and even films you know that are based around nature. For centuries all sorts of artists have been inspired by the natural world – the exact same natural world that’s all around you. One of the things our Wild Ways Well group likes to do is get our creative minds working in the outdoors. You don’t need to be Rembrandt or Spielberg to have a go at making art in the outdoors – even geniuses had to start somewhere! Last Thursday we took our cameras and spent a couple of hours in the wildflower meadows of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Seafar Wood Wildlife Reserve; and on Saturday we went up to the Forest Wood Reserve to see the Easter Island-style Moai chainsaw sculptures that have been created there. We had a great time pottering about in the sunshine, letting the feel of these natural spaces guide us as we sketched and photographed everything we could

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Volunteers in the Willows

  The rain is trickling down the small of our backs, our bodies still warming from the tea. “Twenty five to go!” harks the cry from within the group, in an almost victorious tone. Bending the thin strips of willow down, intertwining them with last week’s work (and the week before’s), it’s fair taking shape. As the hiss of the fire slowly becomes less frequent, the small droplets falling on the fire, the last few go in place, and as the pitter-patter of rain starts to become more frequent and slightly heavier, not an eyelid is batted…no one seems to notice, or care. That’s it, done. “Doesn’t look like much just now.” “Will it even grow?” It will, in fact it’s already started. Gently pulling on previous weeks’ strips of willow, it’s solid, it’s already started rooting and as we look closer we can see small buds appearing, small petite green buds fluttering up through the branches. It’s not just pretty to look at, some caterpillars have already been enjoying the green delicacy of our work. They’ll soon grow into beautiful

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Phoenix trees

Some time ago, while in the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s amazing Cumbernauld Glen reserve, I learned about a new type of tree – not a new species, but one with a new way of living. Walking through the woods I came across a fallen tree. Even knowing the value of dead wood to wildlife I still can’t help feeling sad when I see an old forest giant lying like this, the thick, gnarled trunk dug into the ground, its shattered branches splayed around, roots pointing skywards showing where the wind had torn it from the Earth. I was contemplating this when I noticed the tree wasn’t actually dead. Growing up from the trunk, in a perfect line, were living branches, each of which had formed into a perfect young tree. Some of the old giant’s roots were still in the ground, still pumping up water, energy and life. Trees like this are known as phoenix trees. They will live on as the young trees rise anew from the old. I was reminded of this recently when I had a bit of

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As Above Better Below

The sound of the motorway thunders in my ears and I imagine the cars moving up and down it. What are all those people thinking about as they drive past? Are they marvelling at the road itself, this miracle of human engineering?  Oh the wonders above, but what about the wonders below? I chuckle as I move through the woods, wondering how many people know about the badger highway I’m currently following…I step on a branch and something rustles nearby, I look through the leaves of a beech tree to find a confused deer looking back at me. The roe stares for a moment, then as the wind drifts my distinctive aroma towards him, his head snaps up, he catches my scent  – and bye bye buckie! I think again how without Cumbernauld Living Landscape I would never have found or known or cared about what beauty simply lay at my front door. I think back to 6 months ago of that deep dark place I was in but force the thought away and take a deep breath and smile. I

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It’s ok to feel the spring blues

We are passed the equinox, the time when day and night are equal, and the clocks have shifted forward. The mornings feel so much longer and full of birdsong. Our parks and woods are becoming greener and filled with flowers and blossom. This means the dark days of winter firmly over, and as a result we all feel so much better and full of energy. We find it much easier to spring out of bed and face the world. Don’t we? I personally think that there is a little bit too much pressure to feel ‘springy’. I notice it because, even though I appreciate the longer days, I still feel a little tired and not particularly full of energy. It is great to celebrate spring, but we must remember not to put pressure on ourselves if we do not feel totally revived after the equinox! And at the same time, I think there is always a pressure to hide our bad mood. But why not have a celebration of it instead? If everyone would gather up and go for a

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A journey into Cumbernauld’s wild centre

Picture an urban scene – is it full of crowds, cars and concrete? It’s no wonder that the hustle of urban life can make people feel disoriented, or even ill. Recently I found myself in Cumbernauld shopping centre feeling like I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t draw breath, was freezing cold and yet soaked in sweat. I felt dizzy, faint and unsteady, my stomach was a tight ball of fear. My heart hammered in my chest – I was having a full blown panic attack. I’m supposed to be good with panic attacks, I have all the tools, training and experience to deal with them – and yet I still lost control to a primal instinct, fight or flight, evolution’s last ditch defence. But that busy centre isn’t the only urban scene. A day later I stood a few hundred metres from that spot, but in a different world. This time I was with a group watching a pair of roe deer moving through the woods. The deer were calm as we stood quietly and I could feel

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Beating the Winter Blues

It’s been a cold start to the year but that hasn’t stopped the Wild Ways Well group from getting out exploring Cumbernauld’s wildlife reserves. I suffer badly from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as ‘the winter blues’. You might relate to an annual feeling of dread and depression during the dark days of winter. When it’s a struggle to get up every morning and face the day and every setback feels like disaster. Having people relying on me keeps me going and knowing I’m helping others pushes me even more. This is when Wild Ways Well helps me as much as it helps any of the participants. A new member of the group recently said to us that when joining he felt like he was instantly among old friends and I knew exactly what he meant. There is a sense of camaraderie in being out with others in the cold, experiencing it together. While exploring we’ve found the signs of longer days to come. The woods are filling with drifts of snowdrops and daffodils and the first green buds of