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From Small Acorns

1st Rhagfyr 2020

Luke Strachan, CEO, Wild Things

At the core of Wild Things is the mutually beneficial relationship between nature and communities.

The award-winning Findhorn-based environmental education charity works with children, teenagers and adults in the north of Scotland, helping them experience the rugged beauty of the outside.

Now, thanks to a The National Lottery funded pilot – Silver Saplings – the organisation has added older people who are living independently to those who they organise day trips for. The project offers a chance to reconnect with friends, make new ones, enjoy tea and scones in the woods or down on the beach – with instructors on hand to reveal fascinating facts about nature.

With funding unlocking a four-year programme of activities, Wild Things CEO Luke Strachan kicked off his ambitious event plan in August this year, in spite of Covid-19 with many of his staff on furlough.

“The sorts of activities we’re offering are needed now more than ever,” he reflects. “Even if we had to adapt or reduce their scale, we still had to get out there. We decided to develop a multi-lateral approach, where we’re running parallel courses side-by-side which would allow us multi-generational engagement between different groups.

“At the core of the project, we developed a programme called ‘Community Roots’ which includes everybody that participates in their own strand of the Silver Saplings project, whether they’re five- years-old or 95-years-old. In that sense, we wanted to bring the whole community together around nature, to celebrate it, to learn about it and protect it.”

In addition to mindfulness exercises and sensory engagements with nature, the group gives back to their outdoor locations through conservation activities such as litter-picking and building owl boxes. They also worked to make care home ground improvements when they couldn’t take residents out of the homes during the pandemic, helping residents at 25 homes to plant trees in their garden.

A particular point of pride for the organisation was working with Moray Council to deliver special sessions to the children of key workers, enabling them to keep delivering their crucial roles through the summer holidays.

Luke, who grew up rambling in the mountains of the Cairngorms, also believes the charity has a role to play in educating the next generation about the fragility of the UK’s remaining wilderness.

“A lot of people think the crises in animal endangerment is happening in the rainforests of Brazil, Borneo and far-flung places across the world. But the UK was earmarked by the EU as one of the most wildlife-impoverished countries in Europe.

“We’re a small island with a high population and many of our habitats are under threat through development work, pollution, global challenges and climate change. Hence the importance of what we do at Wild Things. We can’t change the systemic environmental problems without first underlining that the problem itself is us.

“What better place to start educating than with kids? Everyone stands to gain from nature, it’s something we can all enjoy and benefit from in our communities and personal lives.”

Wild Things is one of the many good causes that receive a total of £30m of support raised by National Lottery players every week, and Luke acknowledges that without that support, the programmes wouldn’t be where they are today.

“From the outset, they were the ones that encouraged us to bring this programme to where it is,” he notes. “We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. To be able to work with Wild Things is a privilege, and for them and myself to have been singled out is a great honour.

“For me, I’d prefer to share that honour with the whole team. It’s taken all of them working very hard for several years to get to this point. Together, we want to shake up people’s perceptions about nature and realise that they’re part of it, it’s everywhere around you. I would love to see the project scale up in different ways and for it to have a lasting legacy.”