Good, old-fashioned filthy fun
YOU’D HAVE to see it to believe it. Children as young as four and five, kitted out in full wet gear, rubber boots and protective gloves, trudging through soggy wet fields. The aim is to get to base camp before tackling the task of the day – bashing down weeds along the paths through a nature reserve.
The weather looks a bit dodgy and it’s been raining for the past few days but there are up to 30 people out today – 20 children with one or both of their parents all active, eager members of the Outdoor, Wildlife, Learning Survival nature club (Owls).
The venue for today’s activities is the Ashtown Wetlands Meadow Nature Reserve, which the club has been given the rights to manage by Fingal County Council.
“It was a forgotten site, a flood plain for the river Tolka with a woodland and lake with an island,” says Andrew Fleming, who set up Owls nature club.
If you were an outdoorsy child, and spent time paddling in rivers, fishing in rock pools, climbing trees and making your own hideouts in the local woodland, this is exactly what you’d want for your children. “Growing up in the country, we went out all the time as children and just came home for our tea. Children don’t do that so much any more and things like this fill the gap,” says Aine Moloney, whose children Ana Cooke (10) and Fionn Cooke (12) are members of Owls.
“Andrew is very charismatic and he makes nature very accessible for everyone because he still sees it through the eyes of a child himself,” says Moloney. Annual membership costs €25 per child and parents aren’t obliged to be members even if they come along to events.
Visiting a falconry in Co Carlow, working on allotments in St Anne’s Park, Raheny, Dublin, and going on nature camps are among the activities of the club. This year’s summer programme includes nature walks, bushcrafts (learning to carve wood and mould clay pots), pond dipping and visits to places such as the Irish Seal Sanctuary.
“We’re one of the first families who joined when we saw something about it in the Fingal News. We use the local parks for many activities. It’s very hands-on for the children. They get dirty and wet,” says Jenny O’Reilly, whose children Meibin (8) and Eoghan Og (3) are out today.
Teenagers Fionn Kenneally from Glasnevin and Kevin Meehan from Santry have been coming along to Owls activities for about five years now. “I like the survival camps [where the group camps out over night in shelters they build themselves] and the clear outs. We do much more outdoor things that I do in scouts,” says Fionn. “What I like about it is that you get to do stuff that you wouldn’t get to do normally – like supervising the fire during the summer camps,” says Kevin.