Monday, 18 May 2009
In my post 'Fleeting Delights’ I mentioned long tailed tits and the pleasure their little dance had given me in a mundane moment one morning at home. Equally special was the nest (pictured above) I found lying on the grass shortly after we got home after the Easter holidays. I couldn’t see where it had come from, but it was just lying on the lawn in all its quiet splendour, and I had no idea what bird had constructed it. It had clearly been blown out of somewhere by the high winds.
I took it into the village school with L as their topic this term is ‘Holes’ – and it struck me that the opening into the nest was a perfect example of the topic. After looking at the way the nest had been so beautifully constructed with moss, lichen, feathers and fibres, it was gently placed in a box and put on a side table. I had been muttering to the Head Teacher for a while that I thought we should try and find space for a Nature Table, and I’m delighted to say that bringing in this nest seems to have kick-started the process. When I came back into school that afternoon to pick L up, the nest was accompanied by some information sheets which had been pulled off the internet, together with a drawing of a long-tailed tits nest which was absolutely identical to the one I had found, confirming it was made by those little feathered friends of mine I had watched with such delight.
I did a bit of my own research and have learnt that these elaborate domed nests are often placed in the middle of thorny bushes, such as gorse. The nest has an outer structure, which is then lined with up to 2,600 feathers, a process that may take up to 39 days to complete. The birds prefer feathers which are between 2 and 4cm long and it seems that the Long-tailed Tits use the feather lining to regulate the temperature within the nest and are able to accurately gauge how many feathers they need to get the temperature they want. You may want to click here to learn a little bit more, together with this BBC Nature link.
It is simply incredible to think how these tiny creatures could build something so extraordinary in its engineering and design – and identical to the pictures we found. Who teaches them how to do it? Is it just some intuitive force of Nature? It really is quite remarkable and shows again how Nature never ceases to fascinate and amaze.
Hence my belief in the importance of the Nature Table, and I am delighted that there has recently been a move to bring them back into schools. The Nature Table was something that my generation grew up with – a generation whose young lives were so much simpler than they seem to be now. Computers as we know them today did not exist, let alone the World Wide Web and a generation obsessed and reliant on technology that such advancements have spawned.
While I can appreciate the good things it has brought, I cannot help but be nostalgic for a world that was slower and perhaps a little more in touch with the fundamentals of life. These days we spend so much time rushing around or staring at screens, whether computer or plasma TV, that many have not learned (or, at best, have forgotten) the importance of stopping, looking, touching, listening and smelling. There is so much beauty and wonder around us and far too often, it seems to me, it is overlooked or unappreciated.
The example of the Tit’s nest is just one tiny one in a micro world that goes on around us every day.
For me, bringing back the Nature Table in schools is just one small but important step in reminding our children that the natural world is a place of endless fascination, from which many lessons in science, geography, engineering and social behaviour can be learnt, and which can build a loving appreciation of our own place within it. In short, it can help re-connect us with where humankind ultimately came from and, as such, my hope would be that it could also encourage a greater humility and a renewed connection with, and appreciation of, our natural environment.
Footnote: Country Living has been running a campaign to bring back the Nature Table in schools. For more information, click here.