Jane sets the seed for getting back to nature - Creative Coquetdale Folk

In her latest Creative Coquetdale Folk report, Katie Scott talks to Jane Austin-Walker, senior project officer, Groundwork North East and Cumbria.

By Katie Scott
Monday, 30th November 2020, 1:28 pm
Jane Austin-Walker.
Jane Austin-Walker.

When I first moved to Rothbury I was intrigued and delighted by an open space at Townfoot, a gap between two buildings, which contained an optimistic scene of beautiful, boisterous, wild flowers.

Like many other people, I often stopped to breathe it in and to have a look at the bug hotels and interesting work going on in there. So, it was a great delight to me to finally get to interview the energetic person behind all this.

Jane is an inspirational woman who is very much appreciated not only in Coquetdale, but right across Northumberland. She brings nature to as many folk as she can. For the last 14 years Jane has run nature-based crafting activities with elderly people. Her enthusiasm has been gratefully acknowledged, and she has developed a set of crafting videos, along with craft kits, to enable this handiwork to continue during the pandemic.

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The Coquetdale Creative Greenspace plant nursery.

Jane also runs gardening and craft sessions for a Sensory Garden Group (for people with visual impairment). The work Jane does with youngsters is also admirable. It is no surprise to learn that she is an excellent Forest School Leader.

Jane was born in 1975 to a university lecturer dad and school teacher mum. It was unexpected, then, that school did not hold much appeal to Jane. Life changed, though, when she joined a young warden group at Bolam Lake. ‘It was wonderful to learn about the nature’.

She never missed an opportunity to be outside, avidly learning all that nature could teach her. “It was a key time in my life. I hadn’t realised that you could study and work at maintaining and protecting the countryside.”

Enrolling at Liverpool John Moores University to study Countryside Management was an obvious choice. “I didn’t apply for any other course – this was all I wanted to do.” And Jane has made a fine career in making a positive difference to our environment, and to the lives of the many young people who have engaged with her on different projects.

Working at: Bolam Lake, at Plessey Woods, Havannah, Big Waters, Jesmond Dene and Walker Riverside, Jane now has an extensive knowledge about the natural environment. She particularly enjoys engaging with children and teaching them about biodiversity, ecology, animals, and plants. “I plan and run a lot of ‘food for free’ events, plant and animal identification, etc.”

It was while she was employed by Newcastle City Council, managing a team of rangers, that she heard about Groundwork NE & Cumbria. She began working for them in 2006, running a volunteer team, and completing many kinds of outdoor projects.

Most recently Jane has been enjoying working on a church garden in Berwick. ‘We’ve made a hibernaculum for frogs and toads, a bug village and a living willow tunnel’.

In 2008 Jane, husband Toby, and their children, moved to Rothbury. Jane soon noticed the vacant plot where the old dance hall used to stand, at Townfoot. “It had been empty for many years. It was completely overgrown and not a very attractive sight to people arriving in Rothbury.”

Jane approached Philip Muckle to ask if Groundwork could utilise it. Philip kindly agreed to them using it for free. Since then, Jane has been working on the reintroduction of native wild flowers in Coquetdale and Redesdale.

A recent project (Re-flowering Redesdale) has been funded by the Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership. The project will help provide a source of appropriate plants and provide training and support to farmers and community volunteers about the traditional management of hay meadows. The project is enhancing the visual attractiveness of grassland across Redesdale by increasing the number of flowering plants in verges and local greenspace.

The plot in Rothbury is home to the nursery for propagating these significant flowers. ‘We grow them from local seed which we collect from Northumberland. The idea is to restore plants which are missing from the upland hay meadows’. The seeds which Jane is collecting, and planting include: Wood cranesbill, melancholy thistle, great burnet, devil’s bit scabious, birdsfoot trefoil, lady’s mantle, globeflower, common knapweed and yellow rattle. Jane has also been working closely with the MOD and tenant farmers on the Otterburn Ranges as part of this project.

“Why have the flowers gone from these areas?” I ask. Jane explains that the change from hay making to silage means that many plants don’t have time to set seed, and this has resulted in the disappearance of some of the most iconic flowers from our meadows. By working with farmers to reintroduce these important flowers, alongside traditional haymaking, huge benefits are also made to our pollinating insects.

Jane is an energetic, enthusiastic, knowledgeable Coquetdale Creative. Her whole family are creative. Toby is a remarkable guitarist and singer. He works as a gardener but is also a fine artist.

Jane tells me: “Toby is arty, I am crafty.” Of course, their children are also enthusiastic about nature and enjoy photography, art, and crafts.

Contact Jane re volunteering opportunities at Groundwork: [email protected]

If you would like to help with the meadow flowers apply at: www.revitalisingredesdale.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering