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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Friday, 30 October 2009

Germany: Ringing Spotted Flycatchers...

During my time in Germany I often went ringing with my German friends, on this one occasion I was helping to ring spotted flycatchers at the Kur Park near Lippstadt.
I was left on my own, while my friends went to check on some of the many nest boxes we had placed around the park. While I was ringing a flycatcher, this dear old German woman came up to me waving her umbrella and shouting at me to stop being cruel to the birds.
With my limited German, I tried in to explain what it was that I was doing.
Suddenly she looked at me and said your not German. I said no I am British and I am stationed here in Lippstadt. Her whole demeanour changed, she smiled at me and said, "I think it is really wonderful that foreign people come here to ring our German birds"...

Enough said I think.

Photo: Colour ringed spotted flycatcher, we used colour rings so that we could identify the bird without re-trapping it and putting it under more stress than necessary.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Ivory-billed Woodpecker does it still exist?

What a great picture I just had to put this in as woodpeckers are my favourite birds.
Picture by: Tomasz Cofta

Friday, 23 October 2009

Naure and Youth at Risk ~ Part Three

I sometimes find that the adults are the problem, no right no wrong, simply because they come with their conditions attached and they experience the kids in a different way for example. This is Johnny watch him he will play you up all day, he is completely out of control and unmanageable.

In my experience when you are out in nature with the kids the reverse is true, once you get them over the shock and horror of being in the woods with all the creepy crawlies etc. One day we had a group of boys one of which had been pointed out to us as being the one to watch. How right the teacher was but not for the reasons he thought.

Charlie was his name and we were doing Bow Drill with them during the briefing which my partner was giving Charlie pipes up, "How are we going to get fire in the rain"? My partner replied you are going to show us "But I do not know how to do this" Our response was that we are going to help them to remember how to do it, "What he said, I have never done it before" don't worry all will become clear was our reply.

Well suffice to say Charlie was the only one to get fire that day and in the rain as well, what an achievement, her was one happy boy. The teacher came up to us at the end of the day and said "I am sorry about Charlie, I won't bring him back again, he is already exclude from school except for Thursday mornings".

As one both I and my partner turned to face the teacher and in one voice we said Charlie is the very one we want back, can you not see what he has achieved today...

Nature and Youth at Risk ~ Part Two

Was it because he was here against his will, was it because he believed no one would give him the time because he could not read or write or was it because he was always told he was unless and was a no good for nothing? Whatever it was he would not get involved, refusing to take part in everything.

The day started at 09:00 and ended at 16:00, time was running out and I was not about to give up on him, so I sent the group off with my partner to play some nature awareness games while I stayed with him and a member of staff.Sitting on the log, he was silent as I tried to encourage him to try his hand at the Bow Drill, I reminded him that no one was around to see him, after sometime he agreed to make an effort and he half heartily tried to bow from the bench he was on. I suggested it would be better if he tried it on the ground, during his attempts at bowing I kept saying to him that it was OK to ask for help.

He did not respond to this, in the end I asked him if he would like me to help him, if he would like me to show him how you can bow in tandem, he agreed and so I got down on the ground with him. We bowed long and hard, the air was damp but we kept going, time was running out for us, the end of the day had come. However we were so close to getting a coal, I extended the time a bit. Offering further encouragement while the rest of the group watched we started to get smoke, boy did we get smoke lots of it. Unfortunately we did not get fire and the day had come to an end and the kids had to go. I shook his hand and gave him lots of positive reinforcement by summarising what he had achieved and how close he was to getting fire the way our ancestors did and how there were very, very few people in the world could what he had just done.

Some days later we received feedback from the organisers, at the end of their two week course with the kids (who were all excluded from school), the only feedback he gave them about the course was a wonderful drawing he did of himself doing the Bow Drill, my partner, myself and Merlin my Eagle Owl and of course there was a fire with plenty of flames coming from it.

I found this very interesting and encouraging in that while we did not get fire on the day, a part of him believes he can do it and that for me bolds well for his future. I can only trust that he has found his way safely in life and that the power of the bow drill and the fire will give him the encouragement he needs in times of trouble.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Swift as a Swallow...

Whilst out driver training one day in Germany I found a swallow roost in a maize field, I contacted my German friends to let them know where it was. And a few nights later we all went out to set up the mist nets in readiness for when the swallows would come to roost, the tape recorder was placed in the middle of the field which was boxed in by nets on all four sides, it was a small field.

All five of us then stepped back to the road that ran parallel to the field, we had a drink and bite to eat while waited for the swallows to do their thing. As the swallows started to come into roost we prepared ourselves for action by lining the road, each with our own area of net to work on.

Suddenly they all took off again moving as one, this could only mean that there was a bird of prey close by, as we looked around to see what it was, I got a shock as a Hobby flew at a fast rate of knots between my legs, it swooped up and reached out for a swallow which it duly caught.

I was amazed and had never experienced this before, a bird of prey using us as cover in order to get closer to its prey without being observed.

Nature is just quite wonderful...
Photo: Clive Newcombe

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Nature and youth at risk. "I was at first sceptical..."

How does nature and wilderness-living-skills affect our youth of today. Here is some feedback from a one day course Hannah and I ran together when we were Natural Pathways. I think you will find the letter speaks for it's self.
Diana Packer
Opportunities Plus


My name is Diana Packer; I am a Team Leader with ‘Opportunities Plus’. This is a programme funded by the ‘European Social fund’ and the ‘Learning Skills Council’. The program focuses on building Confidence, Self Esteem and Motivation towards a positive personal progression for these Young People. Progression may include Basic/Life skills, further Training or Employment.

When hearing about ‘Natural Pathways’, we as team leaders were slightly apprehensive about taking our groups into an environment that encourages people to engage once again with their natural survival instincts. However, it didn’t take us long to realise that this activity and environment was exactly what we as team leaders were trying to achieve as a ‘Learning Experience’ for these Young People that (It was a day to remember).

With this in mind I will try to share just some examples of the many experiences that I have observed during one of ‘Natural Pathways’ activity days. Due to the dampness of the day, I was informed that lighting a fire could be a time consuming task for these Young People, however it was not impossible with time and effort.

Having been shown how to create embers with a Bow Drill, some Young People gave up after a short period of time, however, a small group continued. Hannah’s encouragement and further instruction towards perseverance was highlighted when they achieved their goal. “This small group actively encouraged each other to carry on, once achieving a glowing fire, this group of Young People were held in high esteem by the rest of the team. (This affected the group dynamics as a result)”

Once highlighting this incident towards the group, on our return journey back to the Centre, the remarkable effects of encouragement towards positive rather than negative natural growth emphasised the ability ‘that each of these Young People could achieve their aims and objectives facilitated by positive encouragement’. One Young Person even went on to say that. “This experience was better than the buzz of Burglary”.

Hannah’s ability to engage with these Young People is an asset that enhances her natural teaching qualities. Hannah’s natural skill of ‘emphasis on the positive rather than the negative self-attributes’, encourages confidence, dynamics and exploration of the ‘inner self’ which will facilitate a positive personal progression for these Young People. Encouraging them to explore their personal capabilities and their natural Survival instinct helps these Young People begin to trust adults within their environment, which in turn enhances confidence and self-belief for many of these Young People.

Geoffrey’s ability to engage with Young People became very apparent when ‘Boundaries’ were being challenged. (These Young People have perhaps very little structure within their lives some see ‘Boundaries’ as something to constantly challenge or kick against). Geoffrey’s patience and empathic understanding encouraged them to look towards personal progression rather than the negativity, which could be felt within the team as a whole when asked to accomplish a task.

Geoffrey’s positive support and encouragement emphasises ‘a need to succeed’ within working with these Young People. Drug/substance abuse is widely used within this ‘Youth Culture’ and is seen as ‘Cool’. When questioning Geoffrey about ‘Drug Culture’ (a misconception of the Young Person is that Geoffrey’s long hair implies drug use).

The Young Person began to take in a discussion of ‘harm Drugs/substance abuse can be to your body and the effects they can cause, when to actually ‘get back to nature’ can give you all the buzz you need without all these drugs. For instance, over hearing one Young Person describe their feelings, after an activity called ‘The Drum Stalk’, they described the experience as ‘better than being on Drugs’.

The Drum Stalk is an activity where the team divide into pairs, one will wear a blindfold whilst the other will guide their partner with the sound of a drum and their support, this activity enhances trust and relying on others, confidence and self-reliance.

I was at first sceptical of whether this activity would achieve the required affect for these Young People, however as I previously mentioned, this activity definitely achieved what it set out to achieve. Geoffrey and Hannah's ability to engage, encourage trust and support these Young People towards a ‘Positive progressional insight’ is not an easy task to achieve in just one day’s activity, however it has proved to be achievable and a highly enjoyable day which is discussed throughout the whole ‘Opportunities Plus’ programme.

Both Geoffrey and Hannah bring the male and female aspect into their workshop, providing a balanced role reversible, for example string making is often seen by the young men to be for women until they learn that without these skills they would not be able to string their bows set their traps etc. This is only a small example of ‘the natural teaching abilities’ that Natural Pathways facilitates towards our groups of Young People, however, the effects this has towards their personal positive progression is immeasurable.

Natural Pathways has become a firm favourite with all Team Leaders within the ‘Opportunities Plus’ programme. Therefore I would highly recommend this activity for anyone who would like to ‘get in tune with ones positive self’.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at the above address for any further information in which I may be of help.

Yours Sincerely,

Diana Packer ~ Team Leader ~ ‘Opportunities Plus’

Monday, 19 October 2009

Listen to what the Blackbird is telling you...

I attended a military survival course in southern Germany many years ago, and it was during the escape and evasion phase that I had become aware of something about myself.

It was between two and three in the morning we had been on the run from a live enemy for about two days, the moon was full and was casting shadows over the surrounding countryside the air was crisp.

Sometimes when I reflect back on these particular moments, out in the wilds of our countryside late into the night, they are moments of magic. You feel you are the only people around, but of course you are not, there are the guys in your patrol and there is the odd farmhouse light in the distance, and on this occasion a church clock was chiming in the distance.

It is during this time that your senses are heightened as there was a live enemy out looking for us, they would normally be deployed ahead, on major junctions and searching the odd woodland trying to cut us off at the pass, as we found out later they had been searching the wrong area for three days.

On this particular night I had been alerted by the alarm call of a blackbird that something or someone was close by, I alerted my patrol to this and I was completely dismissed. As we continued our journey I was still aware of the alarm calls being given off by the local wildlife which was always behind us, I was convinced that we were being tracked by special forces, as this was a special forces school the course was being run by. It was never confirmed if we were being followed or not. However, I trusted my senses completely and later an event took place which allowed me to confirm my trust in my instincts.

As our patrol moved on I became aware to the fact that we were beginning to walk in circles, perhaps because we were tired. I drew this to the attention of the rest of the patrol and suggested that we camp for the rest of the night until daylight when we would be better able to get a fix on our location. They inquired as to how I knew this as I had not got the map.

I replied by saying that the chimes from the church clock were at first on our left flank and that it had moved around to our front and was now to our rear, indicating that we were moving in the wrong direction and as we were in very dense pine forest and I for one could not see my hand in front of my face, it made sense to hunker down until dawn when we could get a better fix on our position.

This ended up in heated discussion and split the patrol down the middle we eventually decided to stay put until dawn, so we brewed up and eat a little, then dawn came. As we moved off we discovered that not more than fifty metres away from where we had stopped was a ten to fifteen metre drop onto a hard surface and perhaps we had avoided a potential accident from occurring.

I felt good about standing my ground, but the situation had taught me some important lessons about how to work or not work with a group and of course I learnt a lot about myself, suffice to say I was glad that our patrol had problems because if it had all gone smoothly without a hitch what lessons would have been learnt from the experience.

So on many levels my awareness had been pricked, first the blackbirds and the rest of the animal world sending out concentric rings warning me of others who were present but had not been seen and the trees warning me of the danger that lay ahead. All this before I even had a language of Nature Awareness.

Photo: A lesson in survival skills, I am in the rear and third from the left.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

When I am among the Trees - Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
Especially the willows and the honey locust,
Equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
They give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
In which I have goodness, and discernment,
And never hurry through the world
But walk slowly, and often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
And call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
Into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
With light, and to shine.”

Monday, 12 October 2009

Sunday, 11 October 2009

In tune with the trees...

I sometimes use a piano in my sessions when working with addicts or any other instrument. I do not play myself, I get those who do to take a journey with the wood from the piano or guitar by getting them to tell the story of the wood.

They must not play any know score it has to come from the heart, and the story starts from when the wood of the piano was but a seed in the forest and they have to tell the trees story as it grows up to when it was cut down taken away and is then made into a piano.

In other words from death comes new beginnings and that is the same with their addiction. I have experienced some amazing miracles taking place when doing this exercise. There is more to it than just these few words, but I think you will get the idea.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

How did you know?

I had some interesting experiences while attending the 7th Wilderness Therapy Symposium in Boulder Colorado during September...

This was the first time I have worked with Americas in the US, nearly all the people who attended my workshop had a connection to addiction and while I had planned for about four games over the six hours I actually ended up playing two, the main one being Meet a Tree which as always was very powerful.

What was interesting, that while watching one member of the group finding their tree I mention to their partner that this person was displaying the behaviour of an addict, something I had observed many times before. When we processed this, the person concerned then declared that they were indeed an addict and wanted to know how I knew.

Rather than explain how I knew, I invited this person to return to their place of work and seek to find the answer to their question by observing themselves in others while playing the game.

I know that I have observed my own behavior that I was previously unaware of, through watching others play the games and I have learnt a great deal about myself from addicts and for that I am very grateful. Why? Because I have grown as a result of my relationship with them.

What amazing people they are, they have a great gift, what we need to do is see the lesson they are teaching us, and in return try to help them see who they truly are.

What a great exchange that is.

How did I know? Because we are connected.


"Mentoring is about drawing the light out from others while the mentor remains invisible"

Jon Young: Oct 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Tracking as an Intervention...

When I teach tracking there is an exercise I use which I got from one of Tom Brown's books and since using it I have been able to expand on it beyond its original form to work with people in tracking the energy of those they are looking for.

There are many facets to the art of tracking and energy tracking is one of them. Tracking is not just about finding tracks on the ground, important as that is. I have used this exercise to help get people to see that you can pick up on peoples energy.

Now I am looking at using it as a means of getting addicts to become aware of their behavior in relation to their intentions of using.

This exercise really does take you out of the box and is a very powerful tool.

Tracking with Asperger’s and ADHD

I would like to share with you some tracking experiences I had while working with young men who presented with ADHD and Aspergers and my hope to be able to use tracking as a therapeutic intervention.

My first experience with Aspergers was I went tracking one day up to the sand dunes near to where I live with some young men and several adults, the idea for the day was to see how these young men would get on with tracking.

I asked one of my colleagues to go and hide anywhere in the dunes without us knowing where he went. After taking the boys through some basics off tracking, we set to have fun in locating my colleague who was hiding. And being as we were tracking in sand it would prove a not to difficult medium to work with for the boys, who presented with Aspergers and or ADHD.

I asked my colleague to set up some critical points along the way, these where places were he would stop for a while to make a decision as to which direction to go in, he was instructed to move around a bit looking for the best way to go and I would use these points to ask the boys questions, like "what happened here"?

As we followed the trail we came across an area of fouled tracks, I could see his boot tracks in and out; however one of the boys could actually see the tracks in amongst all the other tracks. I could not see a thing a short while after leaving the foul tracks behind the same boy then said that we were no longer following the same boot print.

So we took a closer look at it, we measured it as we had already taken measurements from the first track with our tracking stick and sure enough and to my surprise, we were following a different person with the same tread on their boot as my colleagues and there was only a small difference in size. How random is that.

Another time I was with a group of boys who were following the trail laid for them until they lost it. I encouraged them to spend time trying to work out what had happened and to see if they could pick up the trail again.

What happened next for me was wonderful, theses boys find it hard to stay still let alone focus on one thing and here they were, all three of them sat by a footprint for twenty minutes discussing what might have happened, working together by asking members of their group to go off and check mole hills etc for tracks that look the same as the track they were following.

They were in fact on the wrong track, but the value of letting them problem solve and work together far out weighted the task of tracking, which we were able to pick up latter anyway.

That, for me was one of those magic moments in life.
Picture: San Bushmen Tracking.