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A Spean Bridge woman has successfully raised more than £25,000 to deliver The Lost Words, nature’s spell book, to every primary, secondary and special school in Scotland, kickstarting a movement that has spread across the UK.
In 2007, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published that had removed around 40 words relating to the natural world.
Among the words omitted were acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow.
The reason given for their removal was that they were no longer in common use by children. A survey released this week by children’s activity app Hoop showed that four out of 10 children did not recognise a dandelion and almost five out of 10 could not identify a bluebell.
Illustrator Jackie Morris and nature writer Robert Macfarlane created The Lost Words to help address what was perceived as a growing gulf between children and the natural world.
Their ‘spell book’ contains illustrations and poems of 20 of the words removed from the Oxford dictionary, from adder to wren, in a bid to recapture these words before they are lost to the next generation entirely.
Jane Beaton, from Highbridge near Spean Bridge, recognised the importance of the book so began a crowdfunding campaign to provide a copy to every primary school in Scotland.
The initial target was reached so quickly that Ms Beaton quickly expanded the goal to include all Scottish secondary and special schools.
She told Lochaber Times: ‘The campaign really captured a movement as people are looking for different ways to make a difference. Connecting with nature is so good for all of our physical and mental health and so many people share that thought now.
‘It’s not just urban kids, it’s just as relevant in areas like the Highlands as a lot of rural kids don’t have access to the outdoors. The Lost Words book can give children and adults a way to engage together.’
The crowdfunding target was met in February last year. More than 500 pledges were made to the campaign with donations ranging from £1 to a £3,000 donation from America.
Ms Beaton added: ‘This had never been done before. Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris were so supportive from day one. Ms Morris even drew some pictures to auction for the campaign.’
Since then Ms Beaton has been involved in the mammoth task of distributing the books.
In Lochaber, the John Muir Trust and the Nevis Landscape Partnership worked in collaboration with Highland Council’s RAiSE (Raising Aspirations in Science Education) programme to deliver literacy and nature training based on The Lost Words for teachers. Teachers were given a copy of The Lost Words along with the teaching resources developed by the trust.
Inspired by Ms Beaton’s success there are now similar crowdfunding campaigns across most of the UK, with others having been launched in the US, Canada and Japan.
Campaigns have also now been started to bring the book into care homes, creating inter-generational connections.
Ms Morris told Lochaber Times: ‘Jane Beaton began an extraordinary thing when she decided that she wanted to make The Lost Words available to as many children as she could.
‘Her wish was to provide a copy to every school in Scotland. What she sowed the seeds for was an extraordinary community of supportive people whose passion is nature; crowdfunding organisers who gave considerable time to devote to campaigns, those who donated thousands, and pocket money, those who gave time to deliver – from Orkney to Cornwall. Such an amazing thing to see one’s work at the centre of such passion.’
Ms Beaton added: ‘The success of this campaign has been a huge boost to the belief that people can make a difference.’