Family Forestry at Harcourt Arboretum

On Saturday 5 November, Primary Education Officer Catherine Vivian and Community Engagement Officer Caroline Moreau welcomed families from the local Ukrainian community to Harcourt Arboretum. One of the main aims of the arboretum's NLHF project is to engage new and diverse audiences with the benefits of interacting with nature on our wellbeing. We reached out to the Ukrainian community this time; as some of the newest arrivals to the local community we thought it may provide an opportunity to connect with other families in a natural setting. We invited them for an interactive walk led by Catherine and Caroline, followed by some woodland-inspired stories performed in English and Ukrainian by Tetyana Bogdan.

Despite some early drizzle, the weather didn’t dampen anyone's spirits, and as the children darted in and out of the plants and trees (particularly in pursuit of peacock-sightings), the sound of laughter filled the air.  Meanwhile, adults chatted about making hawthorn tea and all the different superstitions surrounding magnolia trees. One woman explained that in the region of Ukraine where she is from, standing next to a magnolia is considered bad luck because it will sap your energy. She was therefore surprised to see so many magnolias planted in people’s front gardens here in Oxfordshire! 

The tour of the Arboretum started with the bird-berried hawthorn and the English oak, under which one keen-eyed child delighted in spotting a knopper gall (an acorn that had been misshapen by tiny wasp larvae), and the whole group joined in making mice out of acorns and Giant Sequoia cones (the towering, Californian species was the next stop on the walk).   

Biscuits awaited the group at The Barn, where Tetyana Bogdan from Leleka Storytelling shared Ukrainian tales of woodland animals reluctant to go to sleep for the winter. The CBeebies programme, ‘Hey Duggee’, then proved to be an unexpected cultural meeting point, as some of the group discussed a new episode, ‘The Welcome Badge’, which had aired only a few days earlier and featured a mixture of English and Ukrainian, as well as characters from the famous Ukrainian epic, ‘The Forest Song’, who were welcomed by the 'Duggee' characters.  

Although one family had visited a few times since earlier in the year – to photograph the same view through the changing seasons – it was the first visit for many others. Caroline and Tetyana are planning another visit in the spring, when they hope even more families will benefit from the freedom to have fun in nature that the Arboretum offers. In the meantime, special thanks to Tetyana for her enthusiastic help promoting the event, providing translation, and reading for everyone. Thanks, also, to volunteers Alan and Patsy for the warm welcome they provided and for being expert craft-material-distributors in the mouse-making activity!  

Work to engage and welcome new audiences to the Arboretum is part of 'Gateway to Nature', a project generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.