Nature Stories

Nature Stories from the Scottish Wildlife Trust, first published 31st March 2022

During Scotland’s Year of Stories, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is publishing a series of first-hand accounts from people who have faced barriers connecting to nature. In this story Abdulrahman Ali shares how a project running outdoor sessions for refugees helped him connect to both nature and the local community after he arrived in Scotland from Syria.

Volunteers with TCV Building Roots project in Ayrshire. Credit: TCV

I am originally from the North of Syria but I had to leave my home because of the Civil War. I came to Scotland in February 2018.
When I first arrived in Ayrshire, I felt overwhelmed by all the new things I had to learn about this beautiful country. This included the language and accent, how to buy food and pay for utilities, where to look for jobs, make friends, and where to find different kinds of government support.

Social workers and other council staff guided us and helped us through these difficulties, but there was no support at all when it came to understanding Scotland’s nature, where to find green spaces or places to walk in the countryside. To overcome this, I got involved with TCV’s (The Conservation Volunteers) Building Roots project. Building Roots runs outdoor sessions aimed at refugees, and I am now supporting this work as a Project Assistant.

Taking part in the sessions has helped me understand the kinds of wildlife I might encounter when I visit the park with my children. I have also learnt about the different birds that are found here in Scotland, especially blue tits. I have built a nest box for these birds and would love to see them nesting in my garden one day.


Blue Tit perched on the entrance to a nesting box. Credit: istockphotos.

In Syria, the weather is very different from here and it is getting drier and drier. Winters there can be very cold, and summers can be very hot. Spring in Syria is a lovely season, as warm as a Scottish summer. TCV activities have introduced me to the different kinds of vegetables that we can plant here and especially those we don’t grow in Syria, such as kale, Brussels sprouts and turnips. I now have a greenhouse in my back garden that I’m using to grow herbs including parsley and mint.

Being connected to nature and the local community became especially important to me after Covid-19 lockdowns, where we had to stay at home and avoid meeting other people. Lockdown made me and other refugee families feel like we were living in a bubble.
Building Roots has provided me and other refugees with the opportunity to burst this bubble. I believe it is very important for refugees in Ayrshire to attend to get to know their local green spaces. We can learn about nature and most importantly about the culture and English language here in Scotland by interacting with others who are feeling isolated. Taking part is a great opportunity to grow their confidence and feel more connected to nature, as well as to the local community.

From personal experience, I believe that language can’t be learnt from books or dictionaries. A language needs to be practiced and heard in an environment where there is encouragement and rapport between learners and native speakers. That’s why Building Roots Project sessions have been a fantastic opportunity for me. They have made me realise how important getting outside and meeting people is when adjusting to life in a new country and a different culture.

The Building Roots project is aimed at refugees and is run by TCV in partnership with North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and East Ayrshire Council. The project enables individuals to improve their connection with their local community and green spaces, as well as develop English language skills through outdoor sessions that are co-ordinated with English for Speakers of Other Languages classes.