My City Nature Challenge experience

Euan Burns

Being involved with promoting the 2020 City Nature Challenge has given me a new lease of life when it comes to paying attention to the wildlife around me. It’s shown me that I don’t need to travel 50 miles and spend a load of money and time to be involved with nature. I just need to have a different app on my phone.

I have a slightly unusual relationship with nature and wildlife. I’ve lived 25 feet from the sea on the Isle of Man, remote countryside in Shropshire, a small town (Shrewsbury), and the centre of a city (Liverpool). The house moves have been in that order as well, meaning as I’ve grown up I’ve moved further and further away from having diverse wildlife on my door step. That’s what I thought at least.

Ever since I was young I’ve always been interested in the outdoors, but in quite a passive sense. I’d love going for long walks and bike rides with my family, visiting endless National Trust properties, RSPB centres and Wildlife Trust facilities up and down the country. We would also visit Aberystwyth each year to see the swallows at the pier, often dropping into the red kite centre on the way there. I’d enjoy myself and be interested in what I was seeing and reading about, but then I wouldn’t develop that interest any further. It was if I’d think: “Yeah that was good”, and then just move on with life.

Being involved with the City Nature Challenge and using iNaturalist has shown me that there is so much more wildlife to see so close to any type of home, and the iNaturalist app is a wonderful tool to make engaging with that wildlife quick and accessible.

Red kite feeding station Rhayader

Red kite feeding station and rehabilitation centre at Rhayader by Euan Burns

I had a lot of involvement with nature at primary school because it was an eco-school. We had a little forest on site called the shady glade, and a brilliant willow maze. We also had an eco-lab full of all sorts of plants and bugs that we’d get shown and taught about every now and then. This was a brilliant resource to have, but I think when you’re young you almost resent anything you associate with school. I had a wonderful and happy time at that school, but I didn’t seem to want to do anything outside school that I had to do inside school.

This fleeting involvement and interest with nature means that I’ve never been seen by peers to be someone who knows lots of information about wildlife, but I know that I’ve got a lot more knowledge about it than most of the people I’ve grown up with.

As I moved further away from the countryside and became busier with secondary school and then sixth form, I stopped going for as many walks and visiting wildlife centres. Unfortunately, I think this is a very common story for a lot of young people. When I decided to move to Liverpool for university, I made an attempt to re-kindle my relationship with the outdoors by researching the best places to go walking that are only a short bus or train journey from the city.

A mixture of a lack of money and time meant I never made it any further than Freshfield to see the sand dunes and red squirrels. Realistically, if my desire was stronger, I’m sure I could have made time to get further afield.

Sand dunes at Freshfield Dune Heath

Euan Burns

Not only has it proved to be a great learning tool, but I personally find that wildlife recording really helps me to slow down and let my mind focus on something it normally wouldn’t. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it can be used as a tool for mental wellbeing. I certainly think it’s a tool that should be wisely used by schools. The age at which kids are being given smartphones is getting younger and younger, so we may as well try to create a new generation of people who enjoy recording wildlife casually in their spare time.

The enthusiasm generated by this years City Nature Challenge needs to be used to get people involved in the Greenspace Challenge. This can only be a good thing for learning about the world around us.