Meet Sewards End's Wild Child Club

Five children sit on a log in a semi-circle

Wild Child club members including Leo and Ashton (third and fourth from left), who contributed to a new book, Neria. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Five budding naturalists have co-written a book about fitting in with their surroundings.

The book, called Neria, was co-written by Noakes Grove Wild Child Club members, led by wildlife expert Dr David Corke.

The Wild Child Club in Sewards End began after the outbreak of Covid-19 to give youngsters hands-on outdoor education in nine acres of farmland and woodland.

David said: "With Neria and the Wild Child group, I'm trying to give children the same opportunities that I had 70-or-so years ago, when I was their age."

The book is set in France where its characters see two worlds collide: a boy under a Covid-19 lockdown - Édouard - meets Neria, a Stone Age girl who knows more about nature than he does.

David said: "We - the children and I - set this book in the Covid-19 pandemic because they were suffering a lockdown themselves.

"Amid the winter lockdown, we couldn't gather at Noakes Grove, so the children had to influence the storyline on Zoom.

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"It seemed sensible to set it in the lockdown."

David added that it was important to reflect on how children's relationship with nature has changed over time.

He said: "Children do not have the same relationship with nature that I did when I was eight or nine."

A boy with a beating stick under an oak tree. He is preparing to give the tree a whack and catch the debris in a net

Leo with a beating net, looking for caterpillars and spiders which live in an oak tree. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

A man with long white hair stretches out his hand. A child puts delicately places something in his hand.

Ashton hands Dr David Corke an insect. David, who has previously taught at the universities of East London and Kent, is a wildlife expert. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

A group of children, and a supervisor, gather around a round contraption with a light on top: a moth trap

The Walden Countryside Wild Child club search for moths in their moth trap. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

To write the book, David called on the support of five Wild Child helpers: Leo, Mattia, Kalevi, Noah and Ashton.

David said: "I am proud of the children for contributing.

"It's so different for me to write a book like Neria because my books in the past have been about natural history."

Leo, who contributed to the book, said: "I really enjoyed writing the book with David and telling stories over Zoom.

"Now, we have a record of lockdown.

"When we were in lockdown, I missed looking for mice and caterpillars on Noakes Grove most."

A bucket. A small brown mouse with beady black eyes and a long tail stares out of it.

A wood mouse captured in humane traps at Noakes Grove. They are released straight back into the wild. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

A man with white hair, glasses and dark blue overalls looks closely at a collection of oak tree leaves

Dr David Corke said he is trying to give children the outdoors opportunities he had when he was a boy. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Storytelling is one of several activities for children at the Wild Child Club, organised by Walden Countryside.

David encourages the children to hunt for wildlife, look for caterpillars in trees and search for mice or voles in hedgerows at Noakes Grove.

The children call on David - who once taught conservationists studying at the universities of East London and Kent throughout his career - for advice on identifying and caring for the animals.

Noakes Grove is also home to kestrels, several sheep, and 14 lambs who were born this year.

A white lamb on lush green grass.

Noakes Grove is home to 14 new lambs, all of whom were born this year. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

A chalkboard: 14 lambs, eight ewes and kestrels in the nestbox.

Lambs, ewes and kestrels in the nestbox at Noakes Grove. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

A brown wood mouse with big beady eyes, big ears and pointy nose!

A wood mouse at Noakes Grove, Sewards End. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

The sheep live under the care of volunteer shepherds.

Peter Savic, Walden Countryside's director said: "The sheep here look after the grass more naturally.

"For me, the major draw is the scenery.

"We keep it as natural as we can, and we regularly see or hear muntjac, squirrels, kestrels and spotted woodpecker."

He added education - for children and adults - is central to the Noakes Grove project.

Peter said: "Education is very important. Things here change all the time - in the classroom it's always the same.

"Here, it's different from this week to next week."

Children's changing relationship with nature was highlighted during a 2020 Natural England survey.

The survey found 70 percent of children want to spend more time outside with friends after coronavirus.

The survey also found 83 percent of children said being in nature makes them happy.

Neria is on sale at Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre and Hart's Books.

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