I spent yesterday helping the RSPB with their Big Garden Birdwatch event held in the impressive setting of Norwich Castle. What a delight to be able to contribute to such an uplifting occasion; to see so many enthusiastic volunteers, so many excited children with parents happy that the offspring were getting involved in something so worthwhile and positive.
The event, spread over the whole weekend, has been organised by the employees of Strumpshaw Fen. If you read this blog regularly you will know Strumpshaw is a place dear to my heart, so a bonus was being able to chat with friends, both staff and volunteers, who give up so much of their valuable time to make these things work and deliver. Strumpshaw is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a formal RSPB reserve so it is fitting that they were able to share this milestone with the public and show off what a fabulous place it is and showcase the exceptional wildlife that thrives there.
My morning was spent helping to build nest boxes from kits made in the workshops of Norwich Prison. Children love this hands on stuff; revelling in the freedom of being able to smash hell out of a few nails and actually create something they can take home and show grandma. A few dads got stuck in and after one or two mishaps, (sides on back to front, roof on sideways – been there done that!), proudly presented their work of art which will soon bedeck a garden tree or garage wall and attract a pair of blue tits to call it home. Happily, despite a couple of near misses and one gentle tap from a little girls wildly misaimed strike, my thumbs remain largely in their pristine roundness - and no kids suffered any mishap. Always a relief. And a good number of happy families now have a bird home which has the potential to give them all a lot of pleasant nature watching over the coming years.
The afternoon session involved more whacking with a hammer, this time a non-lethal wooden one, showing children how woodpeckers use trees as sounding posts to mark territory whilst also explaining something of their unique ecology. It was a complete experience with them being able to adorn a woodpecker costume, hammer on a hollowed log for all their worth and learn a little bit about how fascinating nature can be. It was so heartening to see so many families keen to engage and listen. I always find that once the ice is broken people are always quite enthusiastic to tell you about their own sightings and chat about other wild things they have encountered. Deep down we all know wildlife and wild spaces are special and so worth looking after. They just need a forum to express their pleasure at seeing garden foxes, or having bullfinches in their garden, or in this case once having seen a woodpecker up close. The caring spirit is in there, it just needs to be nurtured. What better way to do it than through the eyes of your children.
There were of course many other activities on offer, all popular and all attracting lots of happy children keen to learn (we were told over 1300 people had attended during the day). I can't tell you how happy I was to be involved. After reading so much lately about the seemingly never ending tirade of depressing stories concerning wildlife and habitat destruction, to actually contribute to something so inspiring uplifted my spirits. I walked home with a spring in my step. Well done RSPB, it's not only the children that benefit from these sessions, it lifted the soul of this world weary individual as well.