Be a RSPB Community Nature Champion - and see the smiling faces

PUBLISHED: 11:54 15 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:54 15 December 2017

Some of the cuddly 'visitors' to the Fairhaven School nature session.

Some of the cuddly 'visitors' to the Fairhaven School nature session.


Why not give back to nature this Christmas? says Shona Howes of the RSPB.

Three o’clock. I hear the big school clock chime three times from outside in the playground. It’s getting dark and cold quickly now. The wind has picked up and the sky is thick with dark, heavy clouds. I walk towards the nature garden at Fairhaven Primary, last-minute checks before one of our final Wild Challenge community events of the year starts with the end-of-day bell.

It’s the first in a series of winter wild challenge events that will be hosted over the next couple of weeks. The children are busying away in their final lesson of the day. I start to worry; perhaps it’s too cold, too dark, perhaps nature activities in winter won’t appeal, will anyone come? But we have planned well; with activities inside the school hall, and a trail of fairy lights leading families out to the nature garden where they can hang their creative gifts to their wild neighbours outside on a brightly-illuminated tree. One common message throughout the event; let’s give back to nature this Christmas.

Three-o-five. A blackbird singing from the top of a hawthorn bush catches my attention and I watch him for a moment, he’s taking in all the hubbub going on beneath. Perhaps he knows that our Wild Challenge ‘bug house tree decorations’ and ‘make a Christmas birdfeeder’ activities are to help keep him and other wildlife fed and safe over the hungry winter months. For us, Christmas is a time to give, not just to family and friends, but also to nature that gives us so much throughout the year. We are sending home the message of how important it is to leave a whole in your fence, offer leaf piles for hedgehogs and other creatures to hibernate in, build bug and solitary bee hotels, and to put out food for birds - to see them through this season. For a fanciful moment, I think the blackbird understands, and thanks us with his song.

Three-ten. I watch my team of volunteers make their final touches; RSPB jumpers and Christmas hats donned. Cones, ribbon and glue at the ready. I marvel at the time, thought and care put into each of these events by our Community Nature Champion volunteers. Each bringing their own unique knowledge of local wildlife and a passion for education. The pleasure of running these events is seeing a growing excitement and anticipation in the volunteers... and I can’t help but feel it myself.

Three-fifteen. The bell rings, and just for a few moments, it’s silent. We stand poised, ready and waiting. Then we hear the voices of young people and parents begin to build, they are coming our way. In the blink of an eye the hall is filled with families crowding round tables, starting to build their birdfeeders, create bug decorations and cards, and help themselves to a well-earned snack. We immerse ourselves in each fleeting conversation, each little idea and every tale that is told about animals from a child’s garden. Smiles and laughter and curious minds, excited to see where the fairy light trail leads.

The school clock chimes five times and all is quiet again. The volunteers and I stand around the bright tree, barely a branch free for colourful offerings to nature. Smiling and chatting, we pack up and head back to Strumpshaw Fen, and despite the cold, feel warm in a way that only comes from the deep satisfaction and happiness of a task well done.

Thank you families and schools. Thank you volunteers. Thank you nature. Merry Christmas.

And if you’re interested in becoming a Community Nature Champion volunteer, working with your local community in the Broads to run similar Wild Challenge events, then please contact Shona Howes in the New Year at or on 01603 715191.

In the meantime however, why not visit RSPB Strumpshaw Fen over the Christmas holidays to walk off the Christmas dinner and all those mince pies.

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