A COMMUNITY forest school and nature-based learning project at Auchincruive has been shortlisted for a conservation award.

Little Acorns CIC – nominated for an RSPB Community Initiative Award at RSPB Scotland’s 10th anniversary Nature of Scotland Awards – revived an old underused arboretum of the Auchincruive Estate to develop a forest school with a programme of nature-based and holistic learning for the community.

With facilities including a composting toilet, fire circle, woodworking area, wildflower meadow, vegetable garden, mud kitchen and yurt.

Business is booming with activities including nature clubs for 5-12 year olds, parent and toddler groups, bushcraft workshops, support groups for adults and regular seasonal festival celebrations.

The land has been lovingly and sustainably regenerated for the community to learn about nature, build relationships and enhance personal health and wellbeing.

Emily Hamalainen, managing director of Little Acorns, said: “We built the forest school site in response to a growing need for quality nature based and holistic learning which then grew exponentially once the pandemic hit.

“We welcomed the first participants to our Auchincruive site from Summer 2019 – it’s been booming ever since with over 250 children and families supported each week through our unique nature-based learning programmes and activities.

“It’s been hard work and thoroughly rewarding in equal measure with all the staff here at Little Acorns super dedicated and passionate about the power of nature and holistic learning- being nominated for the RSPB Community Initiative Award makes all the hard work worth it.”

The awards, co-sponsored by NatureScot, recognise the individuals and organisations making a difference in their local communities, businesses and schools to support Scotland’s wildlife and special places.

Fifty-two initiatives from across Scotland have been shortlisted across nine categories, and winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony on November 17.

Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, said: “The last 18 months have reignited many people’s love for nature, highlighting its importance to all aspects of our lives – be it our health, the economy, or wellbeing.

“This is reflected in the exceptionally high standard of entries for our 10th anniversary Nature of Scotland Awards. We’ve seen outstanding examples from community work and local dog walkers to businesses and schools making a fundamental change to their practices, for the benefit of our environment.

“Our judges will not have an easy job whittling this down to just nine winners, and in order to find our 10th I would urge everyone to vote for their Nature Champions of the Decade. Huge thanks to everyone who applied and congratulations to everyone who has been shortlisted.”

Francesca Osowska, chief executive of awards co-sponsor NatureScot, said: “The applications for the Nature of Scotland Awards have been inspiring, showing we all benefit from nature, and everyone can help to create a nature-rich future in Scotland.

“We’re proud to support the awards, and we are particularly excited this year to be sponsoring the new Nature Champions of the Decade category.

“Good luck to all of the shortlisted finalists, we look forward to celebrating the many dedicated people and projects leading the way to protect and enhance our biodiversity.”