READ the story of one person’s actions and ambitions to engage their local community in the wildlife of this former mining village.

A driving force behind the Watch and Grow community group in Coalburn, South Lanarkshire, Cairns Galbraith has worked hard alongside fellow volunteers to raise awareness of the growing nature in and around this former mining village.

Projects have included the improvement of a nature trail in the village, the building of what is now a much-loved community bird hide and a number of other small-scale initiatives designed to connect local residents with nature and the outdoors.

Cairns was a participant in the first cohort of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Nextdoor Nature Pioneers Programme – an experience that helped equip him with additional skills with which to progress further ambitious plans for the village, involving even more local groups and residents.

Average reading time: 10 minutes

When the Scottish Wildlife Trust launched its Nextdoor Nature Pioneers Programme, the first cohort of a dozen participants came from across Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and south Glasgow.

It was a perfect fit for Cairns who applied and was accepted on a programme that began in January 2023 and ran for six months. “It was a totally new programme so I guess in a way it was a bit experimental, but I got a huge amount out of it,” he says.

He was also surprised by some of what he learned. Already knowledgeable about the natural world, what he found most beneficial were the more people-focussed elements of the programme – the modules on team building, how to engage with the community and attract volunteers for projects.

“Up to that point we had just been using a Facebook group page but not everyone wants to be visible on social media,” he notes. “One module discussed how there would be interested people out there who are not on social media and covered how best to reach them.”

So, how did that translate to further efforts on the ground in Coalburn? Sometimes, it involved just going back to basics. “I went round chapping doors to introduce myself and explain what we were doing,” says Cairns. “It was just another way of mobilising people.”

Cairns and Pioneers from cohort 1 of the Nextdoor Nature Pioneers Programme.

And making such personal connections has generated all sorts of interesting, and related, opportunities. Cairns was approached by members of the Coalburn Horticultural Society, a local group that for well over a century had organised an annual ‘Flower Show’ that brought the whole community together. “I didn’t know it at the time but there were several national champions in the village,” says Cairns.

With no annual show since the pandemic and dwindling numbers, Cairns was asked whether Watch and Grow could help boost the membership. The result is a close working relationship that has brought young and old together. In one creative tie-in, Watch and Grow sourced seeds from the official 2023 World’s Tallest Sunflower and offered them to local schoolchildren to see whether they could grow sunflowers to match the impressive height.

This fun, competitive growing will continue to thrive as part of the Flower Show each August, with a new class introduced specially for the children involved.

“I’m not sure such a project would have happened without being involved in the Pioneers Programme,” believes Cairns. “Just being encouraged to engage more with the wider public and that whole networking side has made a big difference.

“It also made me think about who we were not reaching, from the elderly to those who are less mobile and can’t make meetings or events – those members of the community who we were, unintentionally, excluding.”

I’m not sure such a project would have happened without being involved in the Pioneers Programme.

Cairns Galbraith
READ about how two divers created the foundations for a thriving community-led organisation working to protect their coastal wildlife.
LISTEN to the story of how one community bought an island.
WATCH how a village in Ayrshire is working to become a haven for pollinators of all shapes and sizes.
WATCH how a piece of waste land in central Glasgow has been transformed into thriving community nature reserve.
LISTEN to how a group of residents are using their collective voice to seek action on improving water quality in Leith. 
READ the story of one person’s actions and ambitions to engage their local community in the wildlife of this former mining village.