How many of us today would know where our nearest common is, or which birds, mammals, invertebrates or reptiles can be found there and when?

Meadow saxifrage, photo by David North

Commons historically were found in every parish and were considered places open to the local community. Places of worth and highly valued. Over many generations, some commons have not only lost their value to the community but have also become largely forgotten.

In Norfolk there are more than 300 commons. The size of the commons varies considerably, but even the small ones can be significant to wildlife by acting as a habitat corridor, enabling species to move around the landscape.

Commons can contain a wonderful array of plants, such as meadow saxifrage, which is distinctive for its snow-white, five-petalled flowers, and once used to be common.

Rare wildlife may also be present, such as great crested newts, now protected due to the steep decline in their population.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife in Common project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is providing people across the county the opportunity to get to know their commons better: to carry out wildlife and historic feature surveys; to increase awareness of and pride for the unique history of common land; and to do something practical to conserve these precious places for wildlife and people.

Part of the project enables the education team from Norfolk Wildlife Trust, together with the National Centre for Writing, to help local school children discover and explore their local common, with workshops and creative writing.

Dear common, We love you because your trees look like giant spiders and it’s brilliant for us to climb. Your water is a blue and sparkly whale. We love the tough shield bug, wearing armour like a knight Your logs are homes and hiding spaces for mythical creatures

Pupils from Ditching Primary Academy
We will be working with five schools, both in the school and at their local common. The two schools we have visited so far have been so close to their common that the pupils have been able to walk there and back. Each school receives two, two-hour workshops, aimed at year 4 and 5 pupils.

The first session takes place in the school’s local common, playing word games and getting the children to think about and look more closely at their surroundings.

In the second session, the children experiment with different writing techniques to enrich their writing, and use the inspiration from being out on the common and seeing wildlife to create their own ‘Love Letter’ to the common, which is then recorded into a podcast.

One of the teachers, Emma said: “Our children here at Antingham and Southrepps Primary School really enjoyed the wonderful experience of using the amazing local outdoor environment as inspiration for their writing.

“We regularly use the common opposite our school in our everyday learning, yet the visits from Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and the activities they ran, added another exciting dimension to this learning, which all the children really loved.”

School Common with pupils form Antingham and Southrepps Primary School, credit Anita Staff

The responses from the school children show just how much they have enjoyed it. When asked “What did you enjoy most about today?’” one child said “Learning about nature” whilst another said “having fun!”.

When asked “How does today make you feel about commons?” quite a few children said they want to visit again and visit more often.  

Hopefully they will visit again, and bring their local common into their everyday lives. Even if they don’t visit for a while, hopefully they will always remember the experiences and feelings associated with their ‘Love Letter’ to the common.

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