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Rachel's story: 'Connecting with Cumbernauld and its nature'

I started October 2019. I’d just taken early retirement and was looking for something that was outdoors, interesting, but something that I could just go along and be a member, be a volunteer.

My involvement has mainly been with Nature Ninjas. That’s been the very active physical work scything, litter picking, planting wildflower plugs, scrubbing beech trees out of peat bogs, cutting down spruce trees where they shouldn’t be, a lot of removing invasive species. I think the time that we’ve spent scything here is probably the longest consecutively that we’ve been in the same location. Normally it’s very much mixed up, so we’ll be in Seafar Woods one week, a couple of weeks doing something, we’ll go down Luggiebank removing dogwood. I’ve been introduced to and getting to know those areas because we’re going to a variety of them and then going back. Some of it is cyclical, so this is the third time I think that we’ve been scything in this kind of area, so you’re building your knowledge and your confidence bit by bit.

It's had a substantial impact on me mentally and physically. I really enjoy how strenuous the physical activity is, I’ve got biceps again now, woohoo! I mean it is tough, we are out in all weathers. I really enjoy and find a benefit in the physical exertion and from feeling my physical wellbeing and my strength improve and I love learning new physical techniques. For me a few hours scything, or cutting down trees, or even just the bending and stretch of litter picking, and trust me there’s a lot of that in Cumbernauld, I’ve definitely felt the benefit. On the mental side, I think there’s probably 3 sides to that, one is the learning, so I’m quite inquisitive, and I’m not saying that I’ve retained a huge amount of what I’ve been told over the last few years, but certainly it has stretched my mind. It has fed my curiosity, and I certainly am much more knowledgeable about a number of things, particularly wildflowers, than I was previously. I think there’s also the social aspect, they’re just all a really really nice crowd. The conversations ebb and flow, people have got to know each other, we will follow up on things that are happening in each other’s personal lives, but it’s very non-intrusive, it’s very very respectful. I think thirdly, for me mentally, I think it’s been good for me just spending time outside and that being with like-minded people who will say ‘look at that heron on the tree’ or…everybody stops when there’s a buzzard, or just that being with other people and having that time to…even though it’s Cumbernauld, be immersed in nature.

Each of the Project Leaders and each of the Project Officers that’s been involved has brought themselves to the projects and I’ve got huge respect for each of them, they’re all very different. One of the Project Officers who I think probably has done more for all of our mental health than anybody else is Paul Barclay who’s now moved onto another amazing project. Paul’s a storyteller and I loved his use of the seasons and Celtic mythology. It’s awakened another interest of mine. I think again that’s been about connecting more with the seasons and with outdoor spaces.  I think for me when I’m in Cumbernauld I’m very conscious that it’s got thousands and thousands of years of layers of history that I just find fascinating. I think now that I feel that I’m rooted in that, so I’m not just rooted in my history in Cumbernauld, I’m now rooted in that much longer history in Cumbernauld which is a really good feeling.

I’ve worked and lived in a lot of places, and I made the decision to come back and be based in the UK, back in Scotland, in 2015.Despite the fact that I have lived here from 1985 I did not engage with the greenspaces, didn’t know about most of them. So, for me it has just been such a lovely and really important experience to discover what is in Cumbernauld. And feeling more confident being out in these spaces. I have no sense of direction, I just do not have a built in Satnav, so particularly going out into places by myself, I would have been hesitant, not from a personal security point of view but just from a…if I go down a different path I’ve got no chance of coming back and I think it’s really helped me with that, just being able to explore. Somehow, I’m much better now at orienting myself in different places, and that’s been something that I’ve always been critical of myself about and something I’ve always felt lack[ing]. Maybe it was just a muscle that I wasn’t exercising. I was out with a friend a few weeks ago and we were in one of the greenspaces that’s quite close to me and we were off down paths and all over the place and he said afterwards that he’d noticed a really marked difference in me guiding him through a place like that. Previously I would have stayed on marked paths and instead, I was just much more flexible and fluid, and comfortable moving myself through an area. 

I think all of that knowledge has definitely filtered through to any number of conversations encouraging people to be outdoors, to enjoy it, sharing any knowledge that I’ve learnt.  For example, I’ve got an elderly neighbour who’s been doing work on her garden, and with a bit of encouragement from me, initially it was going to be hard landscaped, but she’s actually chosen to put in a coppice of native trees, and helping her choose what to put in and helping her think about how to manage it and all of that.  I think a lot of that is knowledge and confidence and awareness of trying to create better habitats for wildlife. That definitely has been part of what I’ve gained from this.  All of the neighbours now have holes in the fence for hedgehogs, all of the neighbours are aware of hedgehogs. So, I think it’s about trying to encourage other people to not just engage with nature but to think about their own gardens being more biodiverse.

One of the things that I promised myself and I promised my friends when I took early retirement is I am not going to end up back on a committee, I’m not going to end up running things. I’ve done that my entire life and it’s one of the challenges that we’re going to have moving forward, depending on what’s happening with funding, because I know that the intention is that it becomes a self-organising group and that absolutely strikes horror into me and it’s something that I find quite upsetting because that’s really not what I want from this group.  I really wanted a group where it was possible to come along on a Tuesday, take part, go away.  So that kind of freedom was really useful.



This is part of the project 'Stories of nature connections' (

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.