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From Small Acorns

1st December 2020

Luke Strachan, CEO, Wild Things

Luke Strachan

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 great outdoors.

Now, thanks to a The National Lottery funded project – Silver Saplings – the organisation has enabled older people, both living independently and in care homes, to enjoy and benefit from regular day-trips and care home visits. The project offers a chance to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, enjoy tea and scones in the woods or down on the beach – with instructors on hand to reveal fascinating insights into the natural world.

With funding unlocking a four-year programme of health and wellbeing 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.

As a result of his dedication, Luke is one of a handful of workers around the UK formally recognised by The National Lottery for his outstanding work during the pandemic, with his image set to be beamed on the Wiltshire stones.

“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.

“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 removing invasive species, tree planting, litter-picking and building owl boxes. They also worked to deliver remote activities via video and postal packages when they couldn’t take residents out of their homes during the pandemic. This initiative has supported residents at 25 care homes to engage with the environment by regularly getting out into their gardens, planting seeds, pressing flowers, botanical drawing and much more.

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 threatening global ecosystems is happening in the rainforests of Brazil, Borneo and far-flung places across the world. But the UK was recently 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. The only way to tackle this issue is to help people of all ages and walks of life to understand and care for the natural world around them.

“Everyone, young and old alike, stands to gain something 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 to benefit from the £30 million of funding raised by National Lottery players every week, and Luke acknowledges that without that support, the programme wouldn’t be where it is today.

“From the outset, The National Lottery encouraged us to be ambitious and we wouldn’t be where we are now without their support and guidance,” he notes. “We owe National Lottery players a huge debt of gratitude. To be able to work with Wild Things is a privilege in itself, and for our work to have been highlighted is a great honour.

“For me, I’d prefer to share that honour with the whole team as well as our dedicated volunteers. 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, to begin changing our societal approach towards the environment and to help others to realise that they’re part of it – there is no distinction between nature and humans. We are all part of this incredible web of life and when we protect the natural world, we protect ourselves too. I would love to see the project scale up in different ways and have no doubt it will have a lasting legacy.”