Leeds Children’s Charity at Lineham Farm is dedicated to brightening children’s lives by providing unforgettable stays with valuable learning experiences and much needed respite. Many of the young people and families who visit us are experiencing the countryside for the very first time.
Part of a stay at Lineham is exploring the 120 acres of unspoiled countryside and learning about the natural environment. Jo is part of our activity team, and she has been working here since 2008. Jo is passionate about nature, and she runs our environment activities here at the Farm. We caught up with Jo to find out more about these activities and the local wildlife.
Hi Jo, please tell us about your role at Lineham
I am an activity worker with responsibility for the nature and environment activities we run. I plant and maintain the vegetable garden and try to keep the courtyard stocked with plants to make it colourful for our visitors. There is a lot of watering required during summer!
During lockdown, we had a cabin classroom built for use in the nature sessions. I have decorated it and stocked it with my extensive collection of natural treasures. It has been wonderful to have an inside calm space to use with the visiting children and they are really fascinated by the collection.
My newest additions are a dolphin and cow skull. I have various skulls of predators and prey animals which are great for demonstrating the adaptations animals have, including fox, badger, owl, stoat, mole, squirrel, rabbit, sheep, and deer. I also have various nests and eggs, and lots of owl pellets we can dissect to see what the owls have been eating in the woods.
I also use the cabin classroom for pebble painting with family groups. I start the sessions off in this room where we discuss the types of animals that live around the farm and the clues they might leave behind that we can spot.
What kind of wildlife is native to the farm and local area?
We have a badger set on site. I have managed to capture videos of it using our trail camera. The camera has also picked up deer and fox activity, along with rabbits, hares, squirrels, mice, and voles. The roe deer are very timid but the first group of the day into the woods are often treated to the sight of them bounding away from us.
We have a large and varied selection of birds from tawny owls, buzzards, and red kites to the regular visitors to the bird feeders – various tits, sparrows, chaffinches, woodpeckers, nuthatches, goldfinch, and blackbirds. I have a collection of the soft RSBP birds that help to teach the children about different bird song. Often a robin or a great tit will sing back to the children in the woods when we are using them. That’s quite a magical experience.
Please tell us about the different natural ecosystems on the farm
The site has various types of woodland. Some of it is plantation like the Norwegian spruce woodland where we run the bushcraft sessions from. The oldest ‘middle’ wood is mixed deciduous with some very old trees, including a huge beech tree that must be more than 250 years old.
I often sit at the boundary of the two types of woodland and get the children to spot the differences between the habitats. We have a wetland area that was created around 20 years ago by digging out a large area and diverting a stream.
A very simple but popular thing we do is walk along the streams in wellies. We occasionally do pond dipping and discover all kinds of amazing things in the ponds, such as dragonfly nymphs, water snails, water scorpions, diving beetles, and leeches. The children really enjoy it, but we lack an accessible area to be able to do it all year round.
Beyond the strip of woodland are some fields where the sheep live, and we harvest hay. We have done some tree planting in these areas over the last 10 years and these copses (small groups of trees) are maturing nicely.
What activities do you run to help young people experience the natural environment?
We have an activity called Lineham Explorers. When school groups visit, the teachers sometimes ask us to cover aspects of the National Curriculum that the children have recently or are due to learn about. Experiencing nature for real is a very valuable experience to help their understanding. For example, we might see the evidence of predator and prey adaptations, food chains and webs, how humans influence environments, the water cycle, and recycling.
During the Lineham Explorers session, we compare the wildlife of the farm to the farm animals. We spend time meeting and learning about our resident farm animals (Jeff the peacock, the sheep, goats, ponies, and guinea pigs).
We plan to restock our hens so that the children can collect eggs from the hen houses. Sometimes the visitors choose to go for a country walk off site to look at the wider countryside, and we have a great expansive view of the Wharfe Valley extending to Almscliffe Crag and beyond from our ‘Surprise View’ at the field boundary.
What is the typical reaction from the young people to the wildlife around the farm?
Most of them love it and start their own collections during their visit. I’m constantly giving out bags and pots for them to carry their feathers, pinecones, and owl pellets. They LOVE walking in the stream. I get them to do various little sensory activities, one of which is to silently observe nature (listen, look, feel) and then we discuss how our minds feel (calm, relaxed). I think it’s so important to introduce them to the idea that the countryside is very beneficial to their mental health.
Why do you think it’s important we teach younger generations about local wildlife?
They are the future! Hopefully their time at Lineham will plant a seed that they can nurture as they grow into responsible adults. If you feed the birds or make a small pond in your garden, you will be rewarded with the wildlife coming to you.
Many of the young people and families visiting Lineham have spent limited or no time in the countryside. What does time in nature do for them?
So far this summer we have had numerous family groups who have come to the farm and loved it. They can relax, have fun, laugh with each other, and make lasting positive memories. There are no screens to distract anyone, and phones only come out to take a photo to capture a moment.
For many of the families, the adults and the children will be experiencing things for the first time together – feeding a peacock, climbing to the top of the wall, archery, learning how to build and light a fire with natural materials, leading each other blindfolded along the assault course. The farm and the natural environment is a peaceful and calm setting for this to happen in.
What are your most memorable experiences on the farm?
I have worked at the farm for 14 years, so there are countless experiences. I love watching the young people’s confidence grow as they get higher on the climbing wall than they thought they could. I love it when I have enthusiastic budding naturalists accompanying me round the woods, but equally, it’s lovely when they tell me they thought Lineham Explorers was going to be boring, but it was great!
During lockdown, we worked with young care leavers and their Personal Advisors. These included young mothers and their children, asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors. Everyone needed a safe space away from the city to ground themselves. It was humbling being in their company.
One of my best experiences was spending time with a woman from Somalia and her two children. The parks in Leeds were closed so the only time she was venturing out with them was to buy food. We made a campfire, and she told me about her life in Somalia and all the outside cooking which was part of her old life. She encouraged her children to get dirty and enjoy the feel of the earth. She sang and danced and cried. And she returned to do it all again!
Do you have any hopes for the charity in the future?
As I have worked at the farm a long while, I have seen the changes over the last couple of years since Leeds Children’s Charity became based at Lineham Farm. I love the way the farm is being accessed by family groups, young carers, and inner-city holiday groups. So many more people are benefiting from the fresh air and open space at Lineham. We have our Schools Partnership Scheme bringing children to the farm to experience our green space. I hope we can continue to open the farm up to those who need it most and help them create special memories.
How would you describe the value of Leeds Children’s Charity at Lineham Farm?
I think the best way to show the impact of the work we do is to share the feedback from the MST* family groups we’ve had so far this summer:
“Another fantastic visit to Lineham Farm in the sunshine, although we would go whatever the weather! There is always something to do. We loved the nightline crawling under the tunnels. Our visit is the best thing of the holidays. All the stress and rubbish go for the day, and we can laugh and have fun – we’ve got loads of photos. You can’t talk about Lineham without smiling.”
Parent of one family
“This family has so many difficulties and their visit to Lineham is a fantastic positive memory. P (mum to three boys) absolutely loved the farm. She can’t believe how great it was and wants her and the boys to visit again. P can’t remember the last time they all got along so well. She has been sat looking at the photos and smiling. J (one of P’s sons) has been asking when he can go again.”
Jayne, Family Therapist
*MST (Multi-Systemic Therapy) is a treatment programme for young people aged 11-17 who are at risk of placement in either care or custody. MST teams work with young people and their families, carers, and schools to develop intervention plans and achieve positive outcomes.
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