How the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Brightlife created rural social networks

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 April 2017

A 600-year-old oak tree near Aldford church. Picture by Anne Brenchley

A 600-year-old oak tree near Aldford church. Picture by Anne Brenchley

Anne Brenchley

Older people are working with Cheshire Wildlife Trust to show it’s never too late to connect with nature, as Anne Brenchley reports.

Ladies Birdwatching in Farndon. Picture by Anne BrenchleyLadies Birdwatching in Farndon. Picture by Anne Brenchley

Cheshire is blessed with a beautiful countryside, rich in heritage, tranquillity and splendour. It’s why so many of us choose to call the countryside our home. However, the exact reasons why we love rural areas can also prove to be a challenge. With minimal infrastructure and, in turn, limited opportunities for residents, the challenges are only exacerbated as we are forced to accept the inevitability of Father Time.

But all is not lost. With a little support from Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Brightlife, even the remotest of Cheshire’s over 50s are maintaining and building their social networks, keeping physically and mentally active – and connecting with their natural environment.

The Great Outdoors Malpas project, is one way how the Cheshire Wildlife Trust is creating opportunities for older people in Cheshire West and Chester to enjoy fun and social engagement with the natural world. Age is not a barrier to nature. Thanks to a £50,000 injection from the Brightlife Cheshire partnership in May 2016, the Great Outdoors Malpas project was born. One year of nature related activities has introduced 105 people to a great variety of ways in which we all can appreciate wildlife and wild areas, whether we are 50 or 80.

Simple organised walks have covered tree identification in the winter, shown the wonderful variety of woodland fungi that autumn brings, taught the ecology of the mosslands around Delamere and opened eyes to the diversity of nature through seasonal treasure hunts. There have been some amazing sightings such as an otter on the River Alyn, a flock of waxwings in Aldford village and winter wildfowl at Big Mere, Marbury. Introducing people to these secret gems has subsequently inspired them to independently revisit locations, sharing time, knowledge and precious experiences with friends and family.

The restored Clayhole Croft. Picture by Anne BrenchleyThe restored Clayhole Croft. Picture by Anne Brenchley

But a three mile walk isn’t for everyone. This is where the free canal boat day trips, generously donated by the Round Table, came in. Shared with Community Compass (another Brightlife activity provider), this was a completely new experience for many people, despite living so close to their waterways: luxurious and completely relaxing. We spotted kingfishers and grey herons, admired the autumnal colours and simply watched the world go by.

Not all activities have been outdoor. Indoor workshops taught by professional photographer Nigel Player, showed participants how to make the most of their photography equipment, helping them achieve that perfect shot. The Barn at Bickley Hall Farm, Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s base, made a great base for a range of activities and courses, with the surrounding farmhouse, allotment, fields and wildlife providing inspiration.

A new Arts and Crafts group, led by Jo Thilwind, let people’s artistic nature run wild. Jo’s infectious enthusiasm helped the group to create their own bird feeders made of natural materials, beautiful lanterns, papier maché birds and a collective piece of group art – a mandela. This amazingly detailed and beautiful work is now on permanent display in the Barn at Bickley Hall Farm.

Over the autumn and winter, a small but dedicated band of conservation volunteers have transformed Clayhole Croft, a small piece of parish owned land in Malpas. Once a dark uninviting and forgotten place, Clayhole Croft is back to its full glory. With a view over surrounding farmland, the overgrown hedge has been laid back and rejuvenated and new benches have made this little area a comfortable resting place for all to enjoy. Non-native plants have all been removed to make way for new native plantlife which will support local wildlife. This planting is another activity planned for this spring.

Willow framed paper lantern decorated with pressed leaves and flowers. Picture by Anne BrenchleyWillow framed paper lantern decorated with pressed leaves and flowers. Picture by Anne Brenchley

Kevin Feeney, a Volunteer Coordinator for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, supports the group’s activities and has trained the volunteers in the safe, correct way to use tools. This training has enabled the group to be self-sufficient, allowing ongoing maintenance of the land for the community, long into the future.

Sadly, the involvement of Cheshire Wildlife Trust with Brightlife comes to an end this month, but the foundations built over the past year have meant that several activities have become self-sustainable. The Beekeeping group has now established their own network, with several people having their own hives and others who just enjoy being with their new found friends.

Through this project, new friendships have sprung up and new hobbies have been discovered, or in some cases re-discovered. For many, the risk of social isolation has been averted and, whatever the future holds, friendships will endure while the love of our countryside prevails. Who says the young have all the fun?

Boarding the narrowboat ready for a trip down the Shropshire Union Canal. Picture by Anne BrenchleyBoarding the narrowboat ready for a trip down the Shropshire Union Canal. Picture by Anne Brenchley

Join in the fun

If you are interested in finding out about the various groups, activities and events available in locations all around the county through Cheshire Wildlife Trust, please do get in touch.

Also, if you feel that you or your business could contribute skills or resources to any of the social and environmental projects run to benefit the people of Cheshire and our beautiful natural environment, then again please do get in touch on 01948 820728 or via email at

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