Where the wild things are

Adrian Burgess, Photon Photography

Adrian Burgess, Photon Photography - Credit: Archant

This year have a go at the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, suggests the RSPB’s Morwenna Griffiths

Adrian Burgess, Photon Photography

Adrian Burgess, Photon Photography - Credit: Archant

“Welcome to our Wildlife Garden,” beams Jean Gitsham, project leader for the wildlife area at Teignmouth Community School. She opens the gate to reveal a garden worthy of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s secreting - I actually gasped.

Adrian Burgess, Photon Photography

Adrian Burgess, Photon Photography - Credit: Archant

A symphony of birdsong and nature’s mulchy autumnal fragrance spice the crisp morning air. Jean admits: “My own garden has been quite neglected because I spend so much time here – it’s so peaceful.”

The volunteer-run project began in 2004 to restore the wildlife area for pupils to enjoy. Jean describes her volunteers: “Nigel’s a granddad; Cathy’s children have grown-up, but she still helps; Rose is a great-grandmother, even makes me garden in the school holidays; and I recruited a neighbour, Colin – well actually his wife said ‘you can just take him’.”

The team’s passion for wildlife and hours of physical graft have shaped two copses, a large wildlife pond, bug hotels, an orchard, compost bins, bird feeders, managed hedgerows and an outdoor learning area.

Jeans says: “It’s so important for the children. Lots of our pupils don’t have access to gardens, so it’s vital for them to learn about nature.”

The 2013 State of Nature report was a shocker - 60% of species surveyed are in decline. Nature’s sorry state also coincides with a loss of connection between children and the outdoors. Children, who don’t value, respect and understand their place in nature, grow into adults who have the same limitations and hence will not see the importance of protecting it.

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Teachers at Teignmouth Community School are changing this trend. Pupils love to muck in, filling bird feeders, planting fruit tree and making nest boxes.

The RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch (26-27 Jan 2014) and Big Schools Bird Watch (20 Jan – 14 Feb 2014) encourage all ages to recognise the wildlife on their own doorsteps.

Says Jean: “Classes often take part just looking from their classroom windows – they can see the bird feeders from there with bramblings, bullfinches, gold finches, gold crests, fly catchers, and cirl buntings.”

Big Garden Bird Watch is the biggest garden wildlife survey in the world. It provides vital data enabling more targeted conservation to our feathered friends in need. This year there’s an additional section to record non-avian species, including deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

RSPB’s Richard Bashford says: “Thousands of people have been giving nature a home in their gardens and Big Garden Bird Watch is a great way to reap the rewards by seeing what creatures find refuge there over winter.”

Learn more at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

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