Wild Weekend

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James Heal, chair of the Wren Wildlife Group, reports on the success of the first Wanstead Wildlife Weekend, two days of exploring the wildlife on our doorstep through a range of family-friendly activities

The Wren Wildlife and Conservation Group is 51 years old, but we are keen to keep adapting and trying new things to ensure we see our 100th birthday.

Since 2016, the Wren Group has often organised an annual flagship weekend full of activities around the summer solstice – the purpose has often been to find as many species as possible: a ‘bioblitz’. This year, under the direction of Wren secretary, Gill James, we did something a bit different. We organised a weekend of activities again, but with more of a creative and even more of a family feel than previous years, and with a number of different partnerships. We even secured a small amount of funding. The first Wanstead Wildlife Weekend was born and held on 24 and 25 June.

There were some activities we have done before: a spider walk with expert David Carr (highlight was the nationally scarce jumping spider, Salticus zebraneus, found on some of the tree trunks in one of the copses); and two well-attended pond dips (where amongst many other things, a carp fry was netted). But there was also some new ground trodden. 

Particularly special were two art-themed activities, one of them led by Wren Group patron and international artist Dr Gayle Chong-Kwan. We partnered with the Newham-focused charity Ambition Aspire Achieve, and a small group of young people were able to explore their artistic creativity with Gayle’s help, and also explore the world of wasps, bees and other invertebrates with Wren committee member Dr Tony Madgwick. Watching the amazing bee-themed art pieces the young people created, or watching as they discovered one of the beautiful Jewel Wasps, Holopyga generosa, was wonderful.

The other art event was led by another local artist, Jo Wood, who helped a group of adults engage with nature-inspired art. We also had Vision RCL leading a popular wildlife walk in Wanstead Park, a climate picnic with various child-friendly activities and a macro-photography workshop on Wanstead Flats.

Watching children use a sweep net or look at an insect with a hand lens for the first time was magical. It was wonderful to see so many people come together and explore new ways they can embrace and support biodiversity. It was particularly encouraging at a time of such concern regarding biodiversity and the climate crisis. As Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

Finding new ways to learn about the natural world will inevitably mean we can attract wider audiences, and I am immensely proud of how Wren Group volunteers stepped up to the challenge. It has certainly set a high bar for the future.

For more information on the Wren Wildlife Group, visit wnstd.com/wren