Three teenage girls from the Ridgeway School at Wroughton last week unveiled their own interpretation board at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Clouts Wood nature reserve. It will stand as a lasting testament to their enjoyment of the natural world.
Since the autumn, Lucia and Jess Fiore (16) and Nicola Dunlop (17) have been visiting the wood, near Wroughton, to take photos and immerse themselves in its atmosphere. The resulting 'mood' board isn't intended to provide information, but to make people stop and think about the wood's beauty.
The celebratory unveiling took place following a three-mile circular walk with guests, including three representatives from Wroughton Parish Council, from Wroughton Co-Op to the wood and back.
The girls, and Isma Mehreen (17) who was equally involved but unable to attend the event, have designed a leaflet providing information about the walk that will be made available to the general public through local libraries and information points.
The initiative comes out of the Fringe Elements project, funded by HSBC and V. It aims to get young people aged 16-25 from Swindon and its environs to explore and understand the urban fringe where town and countryside meet, which is often the most familiar area of nature for many them.
"The project is as much about the girls' journey of discovery as it is about the board's function. The board will be a lasting reminder of how inspired they were by the natural world on their doorstep," says Gail Grimes, the Trust's Youth Participation Officer.
"Three of the girls had never even visited Clouts Wood before and now, after volunteering their own time for repeated visits, they are totally enthused – a message that is going home to their family and friends too. Not enough young people are engaged with the natural world, and projects such as this encourage them to see the urban fringe in a different light," says Gail.
Nicola says: "I've become more aware of wildlife places in Swindon and therefore I want to raise awareness about them in others. It's great for families to come and have a nice day out here, and just being able to take part in the project was great too."
"I got involved as I thought it was an opportunity to work in some of Swindon's reserves and put some artistic input into them," says Lucia.
Jess says: "It's a way to encourage family and friends to explore Swindon's wildlife areas because many people don't know that much about them."
Ridgeway School recently achieved special science status and is very keen to bring fieldwork into its lessons. Through the girls' involvement with Clouts Wood, it has become one of the key places where fieldwork will be carried out.
So far also as part of Fringe Elements programme, young people from The Foyer Housing Association on the Bath Road, Swindon, have developed an 'urban safari' to guide walkers to the Lawns, a public green space for the reserve. They also had the opportunity to develop conservation skills and gain a first aid qualification,
And pupils at New College have developed a green space within college grounds as a place to chill out and enjoy. Students are taking an evening conservation course, and one group are producing an interpretation board for the Trust's Rushey Platt nature reserve.
Many young people throughout Swindon have taken part in conservation days, giving up six to 12 hours of their time to help maintain wildlife areas.