Nature inspires

Chris Smith, Senior Outdoor Learning Officer, Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust
Chris Smith, Senior Outdoor Learning Officer, Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust Jane Campbell
Chris Smith, Senior Outdoor Learning Officer for Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust shares his views on the importance of nature to inspire young people.

As Senior Outdoor Learning Officer for Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust, I spend a great deal of my time in Greno Woods, a stunning ancient woodland just north of Sheffield which was purchased by the trust with the help of the HLF.

I was tasked with engaging the local community with the woodlands and specifically with getting local kids involved.

I’ve always been interested in history and knew that sharing woodland heritage skills would be a great way to engage with youngsters. After all, who doesn’t want to learn how to build a fire or use an axe?

Taking groups of children out into the woods and sharing the skills their forefathers depended on is wonderful. In Greno, I met a kid called Collier whilst teaching about the charcoal burners and a whole family of Fletchers whilst teaching archery. Talk about the past meeting the present! It’s a real privilege to meet people and to re-connect them with their natural heritage.

Grenoside village is there because Greno woods are there. The community and woodland are interlinked, we just sometimes need a reminder. Sometimes not.

Whilst in the Wood with a Year 2 class from Grenoside Primary I pointed out 'Sharpe's Wood Oyl', an historic water feature. I asked if anyone knew what it was and a little girl’s hand shot straight up. She described the basket weaving industry which once thrived in Greno and explained how the weavers would soak the willow int’ wood oyl (in the wood hole) to the rest of the class and her speechless teachers. “Wow, how do you know all that?” I asked, a little taken aback. “Well, we’re the Sharpe family” was her response. This girl knew where she was from and understood her connection to the natural landscape. Technically speaking, we call this a win!

Heritage isn’t just posh buildings or even scenic places, its people. It’s the lives that went before us, what we cherish and what we bestow on those who follow.

I’d love to think that some of the children I spend time with will develop a love of natural places and realise their place within them.

Whilst out hunting for mini-beasts with Loxley primary school I met a little boy. Walking back for lunch I asked if he was enjoying himself. He said he thought the day was awesome but asked why I was letting them spend time in the woods. “Well, it’s my job” I explained. He pondered this and fell silent. I thought no more about it until, at the end of the session he pushed his way through the crowd of children and looked me straight in the eye. “What do I have to do to get your job?” he asked. He was seven. And deadly serious.

It needn’t be a park or huge woodland. Our nation’s landscape is full of special places and fantastic stories which are of importance to the people who know them.

Let’s share them.

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