A landmark and absolutely vital project in the heart of the North York Moors is connecting young people and nature, supporting both participants and endangered bird species to thrive.
The North York Moors National Park Trust has developed an innovative partnership with charitable community producing company ARCADE who are based in Scarborough and Bridlington - and they have been working with students at the Scarborough Pupil Referral Service as part of the North York Moors National Park Trust project, Birds on the Edge.
One year into its four-year lifecycle, this National Lottery Heritage Funded project is restoring and creating natural habitat in the North York Moors National Park to support endangered birds such as the Turtle Dove, Yellowhammer, Song Thrush, and Redstart and help them thrive. This year the project has been working with landowners to create ponds, drinking pools and wildflower strips.
The project is also engaging with children and adults from a range of backgrounds, allowing them to experience nature and conservation first-hand in the National Park.
ARCADE have led weekly creative sessions with students from the Pupil Referral Unit, which is a specialist education facility for young people not currently in mainstream school for any number of reasons.
Drawing on themes of endangerment, flight, and self-worth inspired by the plight of the turtle dove, the group have explored their thoughts, feelings and ideas through lyric writing, rap, music, poetry and film-making.
The Birds on the Edge creative workshops have been facilitated by Stewart Baxter: a musician, composer and photographer, Yssi Wombwell: musician, music producer and facilitator & Steve Arnott: co-founder of the Beats Bus Hull, with regular support from local musician Jim Taylor and Youth Worker, James Koppert.
In addition to weekly creative sessions, the young people have spent time at stunning locations across the North York Moors engaging with wildlife, participating in conservation tasks and capturing footage to create their own music videos. For some the opportunity has been transformational, with some remarking that they had never been in a forest before.
Wendy Chopping, the Acting Head Teacher at Scarborough Pupil Referral Service, said: “Being a part of the Birds on the Edge Project has helped us develop links with other groups within our community and helped our pupils build relationships with a variety of people from different backgrounds.
"Some pupils have found new skills they did not know they possessed, others have overcome anxiety and shown true resilience when having a go at new things, and all have developed their creativity alongside skilled musicians, film makers and songwriters.
"It has been truly delightful to see how the pupils' confidence has blossomed, how they have found pleasure in new environments and have had the opportunity to just 'play'.”
Birds on the Edge is pioneering new ways to engage young people with conservation via creativity. ARCADE Assistant Producer, Shannon Barker, confirmed: “The group has worked hard to create film and music that really reflects who they are. They’ve challenged themselves every week and we’ve seen incredible journeys. It’s really wonderful giving these young people a platform to have their voices heard through the project”.
The group will have a small sharing event in July at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, where their creative responses will be screened to an invited audience including trustees from the North York Moors National Park Trust and other organisations.
James Metcalfe, Director of the North York Moors National Park Trust, told Mag North: “Everything we do as a Trust is about nurturing a lifelong love and connection between people and nature, building resilience, and enhancing health and wellbeing.
“To see how much of an impact being immersed in nature has had on the students, their knowledge and confidence, is wonderful. Driving access to our magnificent natural landscapes in the North York Moors and the benefits it provides, especially to those who have experienced barriers to doing so previously, is core to the Birds on the Edge project.
“I am proud to celebrate the contribution the project is having on helping both young people and birds on the edge to thrive collectively”.
When asked about the weekly sessions, one student said: “These sessions are really upbeat - they help you feel happy”.
Another student remarked: “This is the closest to nature I’ve ever been in my life”.
Images: Students and staff on Spring residential within North York Moors National Park (Stewart Baxter)