2020 – sharing nature with Wild Intrigue

An intrigue for the wilds has got a lot of us through this year, nature’s been our communal neighbour who’s always been there for a natter and a cuppa. It’s been our shared joy, and it’s super important that we remember that.

Here are some of 2020’s brighter moments from the tiny Wild Intrigue team, all thanks to nature, and you lot sharing it with us.

Wild Intrigue goes LIVE online!

As soon as the March lockdown hit, and our Mini Expeds were forced to be cancelled until June, we wanted to make sure we could still inspire and intrigue people about nature. Hmm, but how…? It was a head-scratcher.

Live online events seem common place now (how weird is that!) but at the time it was brand spanking new to us. With some jiggery-pokery testing different apps, we finally mastered the best way to host online events in March from our front room, garden, and on daily walks.

Live Bat Safaris with Heather, Camera Trapping with Cain, and even hosting a weekend of online events for the City Nature Challenge with ERIC North East and Natural History Society of Northumbria from our garden.

The North East’s 2020 City Nature Challenge actually smashed 2019! With more participants, more observations and more species recorded. Lots of people found they had more time to enjoy nature from home this past year, which – in this case – has benefitted nature conservation through recording.

‘On the Couch’ for one of our live online events.

Online events seemed well odd at first, talking to a black screen and not seeing happy shiny faces looking back like we’re used to, but as 2020 is unofficially the Year of Zoom we quickly got used to it! In fact, we can’t wait to continue hosting online events in the form of our new NorthWatch series, the first of which we launched in December. We enjoy them as a way bring intrigue to others, but also to bring those watching into our little ‘front room studio’ for a short while through live online chats. We love nothing more than nattering on about all things wild.

We also launched our first online live wildlife camera, Swallow Cam! Through this, we were able to share the progress of a family of swallows nesting in our shed with hundreds of people, until the Big Day; when they fledged.

It’s a funny old world at the moment, but keeping in touch with nature and each other has been vital, and many of us have technology to thank for that – so it’s something we’re keen to keep up.

Swallows, made famous by SwallowCam, taking their first flight.

Mini Expeds are GO!

When restrictions eased, we we’re SO excited that we could host events again following achieving Visit England’s Good to Go accreditation. Much of our time and energy was taken up with reworking some events, such as Bats & Pizza Nights – to make them fully covid compliant (and still fun) – but we did it!

Post-lockdown, we were chuffed to host 25 fully booked events, with over 311 people attending, including 128 children, and support 1 extra temporary guide. This really showed us that nature has only become more popular, more desired, and more important to people this past year – and why shouldn’t it, it’s ace.

Heather during an exclusive Bats & Pizza Night.

Local people doing good

This is something we hope to do much more of, but post-lockdown we cracked on creating a series of short films for some great people, including Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Ullswater Catchment Management CIC (let’s go with UCM – that’s a lot to type!).

UCM is headed up by Danny Teasedale. Where to begin with Danny, he’s a top guy with nature-friendly farming, wildlife restoration, and community as the forefront of everything he does. We were really pleased to work with Danny to create a short film showing some of the work of UCM. We’ve realised this year that good news stories, and people doing brilliant things, are everywhere – they fill us up with hope and excitement for the future, so look out for more like this from us in 2021.

By the way, Danny’s pal James Rebanks released his latest book this year; English Pastoral. If you eat food, read it. This book was another top highlight of the year and further encouraged a lot of our work with nature-minded farmers.

Gary, a nature-minded shepherd who featured in the UCM film.

Opening our first Wildlife Hide!

After two years of construction – by Cain and his AMAZING dad Shaun – with a slight ‘inconvenience’ halting work through much of 2020, we finally launched our Woodland Wildlife Hide in December.

Cain and his dad having crack building the hide.

It’s based in the most stunning spot on the RSPB Haweswater nature reserve in the Lake District National Park, a site which supports nature-friendly farming, upland regeneration, woodland connectivity, river restoration… Right up our street.

Every time we visit there are at least four Red Squirrels, along with Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and an abundance of woodland birds; huge mixed tit and stock dove flocks at the moment since its winter.

We’re really proud to support RSPB Haweswater through the development and operation of this hide, and are already exploring additional options.

Other goodies

  • Cain had his first piece of writing published! You can find it in Red 67, a book dedicated to raising awareness of our most vulnerable birds, curated by Kit Jewitt and published by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). You’ll just have to buy the book to find out what Cain’s entry was…
  • Rebecca Gibson, our 2018 intern, rejoined the team as a Writer in Residence, and our 2019 intern James Hughes graduated from BA Wildlife Media with a First Class Honours!
  • We were incredibly grateful to be awarded funding from the Natural History Society of Northumbria’s Dickinson Memorial Fund, which we used to buy a generator to bring moth trapping to more people in the uplands.
  • We installed a Tawny Owl box and live-cam at Wild Northumbrian, the wonderful host site of our Bats & Pizza Nights
  • Heather appeared on Channel 5’s Wild Animal Rescue series to chat about the Red Squirrels of Kielder Forest, and we were interviewed by BBC Look North during lockdown to chat about the intriguing ways we were sharing nature with others from home.
  • Cain hosted the first Capturing the Wild course with Northumberland National Park, to introduce 16-18 year olds to nature through photography.
  • We revisited Bamff Estate in Perthshire after lockdown to spend time with their beaver colony, and helped with the first community open day for the new Bamff Wildland project.
  • We were delighted to start working with two new estates; Hill Top Farm in the Yorkshire Dales and the Barningham Estate, to advise on managing the land for wildlife.
  • We (finally) launched gift vouchers for Mini Expeds and the Woodland Wildlife Hide, and a e-newsletter!
Eurasian Beaver taken at Bamff Estate in summer by Cain.

What’s to come?

Well, in all honesty, who knows! We’re marching ahead with a ‘glass half full’ vibe, and already have most of our 2021 Mini Exped dates up and ready to be booked online. This past year has taught us all that plans can change at the drop of a hat, and we’ve taken that into account with our flexible refund policies and the like.

To be honest though, we’re super excited to get back to rewilding people through the pure magic of nature, and have BIG plans for growing our Mini Exped collection, and working with more landowners.

Not to get all soppy… but sharing nature this year has been our focus and our total joy. We get excited when we see something amazing in the woods, or have a brilliant wildlife encounter, not just because of that ‘nature buzz’, but because we fully can’t wait to share it with you!

2020 was knackering. It’s been non-stop for all of us, but we’re brimming with energy to find new ways to bring the intrigue of the wilds up here in the north to as many people as possible, with intriguing landowners and foodies, as always.

Heather

Guest Blog | Urban Utopia by Nick Wilson-Smith
Intrigue of Autumn