Young people from all over the country have made their voices heard for nature in the annual Young Wild Writers competition run by Hen Harrier Action and judged by a panel led by children’s author Gill Lewis.
From the endearing story of a brave Christmas Robin to a powerful and moving piece about the last Kiwi in a raging forest fire, young creative writers aged from 6 years to 16 years have enthralled our panel of judges with their talent.
As Gill Lewis commented, “It was a real privilege to have read the many diverse and brilliant pieces of writing that were sent in this year. We had non-fiction, story, prose, and poetry. We had pieces of writing about animals from ants to sloths, to snakes and whales.
Each piece was very different from another. The standard this year was incredibly high, and of course the judging was very difficult to choose between so many worthy winners.”
Young Category (6-8 Years)
Winner: Muireann Beck (aged 8), Mallaig Primary School
The Brave Little Robin
The snow fell like sugar from a spoon, but the wind was calm like a gentle breeze in summer. Every house in Mallaig was dark like a piece of chocolate, their roofs dusted with coconut and, in some of them, lights were going on like pieces of golden honeycomb.
A robin stood on a gate next to the church, a puff of red like a Christmas bauble. It was three days before Christmas and I was playing in the snow with my friends. The darkness was coming in early, as it does in the Highlands in December. The robin flew above us, looking at me as it darted past. ‘Wow,’ said my friends, watching the little red streak land on a high branch.
Nobody knew that I was friends with animals, but my friend Cora knew. And she knew my biggest secret … that I can talk to animals.
With darkness almost upon us, my friends went home. I stayed out, looking for the robin. But when I found it it was injured, so I went to my house and told Mum and Dad. They didn’t really understand, because they don’t know my secret.
So, I had to do it by myself. I went to the robin, and put it into a box. Taking it home, I cleaned the wound by myself and after that I cared for it. My little fluffy friend who trusted me.
The night before Christmas the robin went back to the wild, taking off into the forest like a crimson arrow. That night, I laid down a wee dram and a mince pie for Santa, as we do every year in our house.
The next day it was Christmas Day and we all got really good presents. As I opened them, I heard ‘tap, tap’ on the window.
Guess who that was!
Runner-up: Jamie Smart (aged 7), Home Schooled
Over winter’s moorland it’s silent, there’s nothing to be heard.
Then spring arrives – cheeping and chirping, something echoes across the hills.
A cry, a call, and then a flight.
With incredible bill and long dark legs
The Curlew is here to nest again.
You find a place safe and sound
But then the tractors come in –
Cutting and shredding your home,
Your chicks, your eggs….gone in the mouth of the harvester.
This has happened for years and years
Only a few nests are left
And if we keep up this work we will never hear nor see
This beautiful bird again.
So let’s do what we have to do :
To care, to help this stunning bird and its haunting call
And protect its dying home.
Runner-up: Mali Charles (aged 8), Ysgol Cnywyd Sant
Game of Survival
In nature’s vast and wondrous domain,
Where life’s fierce battles leave their stain,
A tale unfolds of strength and strife,
The timeless struggle, called survival of life.
Amidst the wild, where instincts reside,
Creatures embark on nature’s wild ride,
From arid deserts to dense forests green,
Where life’s endurance is put to the scene.
See the mighty lion, noble and bold,
Roaming the savannah, fierce and untold,
With sinewy limbs and golden mane,
A predator’s prowess, he can’t restrain.
He hunts with stealth, in shadows he creeps,
In each step, a promise that death shall reap,
But even the king of the beast must endure,
The ever-present threat, hunger’s lure.
Behold the gazelle, graceful and fleet,
Her slender limbs, an agile feat,
She leaps and bounds on the open plain,
With elegance, she evades the lion’s reign.
Yet fear persists in her wary eyes,
As predator’s shadows paint the skies,
Her heart races, a primal drum,
As she searches for safety, fast and numb.
In jungles deep, where danger thrives,
A panther prowls, her presence belies,
With velvet paws and piercing eyes,
She moves with grace, a deadly disguise.
She stalks her prey through moonlit nights,
With stealth and cunning, she incites,
Her silent pursuit, a lethal dance,
Her hunger grows, a feral trance.
But in this web of survival’s plight,
There’s more than just a predator’s might,
The meek, the small, the humble and weak,
Find ways to endure, find ways to speak.
The ant, industrious, toils with might,
Building kingdoms underground, out of sight,
In unity they rise, a formidable force,
Through teamwork and resilience, they stay on course.
The whale, majestic, in oceans wide,
Navigates the depths, with strength beside,
She sings a song, a haunting plea,
To safeguard her kind, in the deep blue sea.
From soaring birds to crawling snails,
From ancient turtles to agile whales,
Each creature tells a tale profound,
Of struggle, survival, in life’s battleground.
So let us learn from nature’s design,
Embrace the lessons, the truth we find,
That strength is found in unity’s sway,
And empathy guides us on survival’s way.
For in this world, both wild and tame,
Every life, every creature, has a name,
Let us protect, let us preserve,
For animal survival, let our hearts serve.
Highly Commended: Lara Carpenter (aged 8), The Duchy School
Highly Commended: Melody Williams (aged 7), Springfield Primary School
Survival is a Balance
“Another cow killed last night,” sighed Farmer Green. His forehead creased as he frowned, making channels in his skin deep enough to sow seeds in.
“We have to do something,” agreed the others solemnly, “we have no choice.”
Wolves were a real pest to the farmers in Yellowstone. They ate their livestock and the farming community were worried for the cattle and sheep that they tended. It was upsetting to see the animals that they cared for hurt and also bad for business.
BANG – the shot echoed around the valley as a silver blanket fell to the floor. With pounding feet the rest of the pack fled in terror. The rangers hunting these fierce predators did not realise the harm they were causing. Over 123 of the wolves were killed or driven out of the land.
Animals understand that survival is a balance. Food versus safety versus sleep – which is worse, hunger or injury or exhaustion? When is fighting for territory or females worth it? Sometimes people do not understand this balance. The sea without a shark or the savannah without the lion would be changed unrecognisably for the worse. This was the case for Yellowstone.
The first sign of disaster after the wolves vanished was when the aspen trees started to falter. Now free from their enemy, the elk numbers began to rise. They rejoiced and you could hear the thundering of hooves dancing but they also devoured most of the aspen trees. In addition, the voice of song birds was replaced by the crying of beavers. As the aspen trees decreased, the birds did not have homes and the beavers did not have wood to build dams. They too were disappearing. Without beaver dams and shade from the trees, water temperatures were too high for cold-water fish. It was like there were no winners left at the Olympics having lost the golden leaves, the silver wolves and the bronze beavers. This habitat was changed because of a disruption in the food chain.
After 70 years the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone because biologists realised that they were the key to keeping this ecosystem healthy. Slowly the elk were depleted, aspen trees gradually grew and song bird, beaver and fish numbers increased again. Eventually, Yellowstone was restored to balance.
Some children are frightened of wolves because of reading Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs but in my story, the wolf is a hero instead of the villain.
Junior Category (9-12 Years)
Winner: Adam Breffit (aged 10), Cuffley School
High in the clouds I soar, scanning for flowers in the perfect silence of the sky.
But wait. Dark clouds. Rain. Frantically I career towards the hive, swerving this way and that avoid the steadily falling drops of hell. As I reach the hive, I jostle past the guard bees desperately trying to slow the oncoming horde of insects. When everyone is in the hive while the persistent rain drives at us from all directions, I spot the queen encompassed by hundreds of worker bees tending to her.
Hours later, after the storm had ended, the guard bees shot into the hive and urgently buzzed at us. Notwithstanding the fact the ledge was still drenched, everyone followed the guards out to the entrance. No. It can’t be. Hornets. Hundreds of thousands of hellish hornets. Instinctively I flee to the very back of the hive, where the new frames are and hope they do not find me. The first hornets have arrived and promptly overpower and slaughter all the guard bees. But as they move onto the army of worker bees, some of the bees completely cover the hornets and whilst more and more bees join the mass, the hornets begin to cook. Literally.
While the dying hornets scramble out of the hive, we realise the queen is stalking around three dormant queen cells that have been becoming more active recently. Suddenly, she lashes out with her tail and the sting smashes into the first queen cell. But as she prepares to destroy the second cell she realises that the third cell has popped open. While she scanned the hive, the second queen cell opened without warning and the old queen realised she was dying when the sting thudded into her abdomen. But the second queen knew she wasn’t safe. So, gathering about half of the hive (including me), she flew to a nearby tree. A swarm. There she stayed until a few weeks later when a battalion of worker bees were dispatched to check on the old hive. I gasped in horror as the workers reported that the hive is now a desolate graveyard of bees, wasps, hornets and death’s head hawk moths. The queen ordered for us to shut down the old hive and forbid any bee from entering. I, by then, was an ancient bee, five and a half weeks old. So that is why I finish this story a dead bee, six weeks old and having survived a hornet attack, rain, storms and a swarm.
Now that’s what I call a story of true animal survival.
Runner-up: Benjamin Fallow (aged 9), Twineham CE Primary
The accidental meaning of their name, an extreme acrobat
A harrier catapults down to grab its prey with flint-sharp talons –
It’s a bank vole!
The sky turns the blue of wet slate
Two harriers, a male and female, circle against the dark sky
They’re food passing.
You see that one above? That’s the male
Males are whitish-grey, like fresh ash the morning after a fire,
They have black wing tips,
dark like felt that absorbs all light and takes away shadow
The male flies directly above the female, she flips and
balances in thin air,
the male lets the vole free, and
it plummets down into the female’s grasp.
The male and the female only stay in that position for a second,
blink your eye and you’ll miss it –
She can’t leave the chicks unguarded.
The female flips around –
Her feathers are tesserae
a mosaic of rich brown,
spattered with ochre, like watercolour paint.
Their nest is disguised in the heather,
The chicks call, begging,
shedding their downy fluff, it drifts in the wind…
She tears the vole into tiny pieces, the size of oats,
feeding her chicks a vole porridge.
A sea of heather moorlands stretches out,
Men burn the heather
like it’s waste –
they’re making money, and making a wasteland.
But to the harriers the heather is home, it’s the only way they can survive.
In the light it glows with purples and pinks,
the heather’s colours are like lavender, Rosanne geranium,
storksbill, red campion,
surrounding the nest, like a garden.
Runner-up: Maisie Langridge (aged 10), Histon & Impington Brook School
Firey beak, wrinkly stilts.
Shaggy hunched back,
With whiskers plumage,
She is the pond guardian
With grey cloud wings
She is the lake statue.
The unmistakable, motley river watcher.
The Grey Heron.
Highly Commended: Danny Sokolov (aged 10), City of London Freemen's School
When the seasons change the foxes change with them.
In winter, the artic foxes’ fur is a gleaming white.
In summer it turns a shadowy grey.
The arctic foxes’ coats are thick and warm, they shall not let them down.
If not for these, all the foxes would have turned into icicles.
Freezing blizzards whip the arctic plains.
Out of the blue the fluffy animal emerges.
Predators’ ears listening with the utmost precision.
They might be short, but this will not decrease their hearing power.
Curling helpfully, adjusted to minimize heat loss.
Catching subtle sounds from beneath the snow.
Their padded paws help grip the slippery ice.
Without these the artic foxes would not be able to plough through the thick snow.
Powerful legs help them to leap forwards in a lethal arc.
In seconds, the prey is dead.
Some features will help it camouflage.
Meanwhile others will help it hunt all sorts of animals like voles and lemmings.
The artic fox has evolved and adapted over time and now is comfortable in this most frigid extreme environment.
It’s time for our hero fox to return to its ancestral den.
Today it will use southward entrance number eight.
Its icy walls have long, and intricate passageways built into them.
The fox will now reunite with its family finally rejoicing after a day’s work.
Highly Commended: Oliver Batiste (aged 11), Cams Hill School
The Call of the Wild
For 30 years or so scientists have referred to the diversity of life on Earth as biodiversity. They usually describe biodiversity as operating at three levels: the diversity of genes within any species; the diversity of species in each place; and the diversity of habitat types such as forests, coral reefs, and more. But does that cover it? Not really. A fourth level has been entirely overlooked: cultural diversity.
Culture is knowledge and skills that flow socially from individual to individual and generation to generation. It is not in genes. Socially learned skills, traditions and dialects that answer the question of “how we live here” are crucial to helping many populations survive – or recover. Crucially, culturally learned skills vary from place to place. In the human family many cultures, underappreciated, have been lost. Culture in the other-than-human world has been entirely missed.
We are just recognising that in many species, survival skills must be learned from elders who learned from their elders. Until now, culture has remained a hidden, unrecognised layer of wildlife. Yet for many species culture is both crucial and fragile. Long before a population declines to numbers low enough to seem threatened with extinction, their special cultural knowledge, earned and passed down over long generations, begins disappearing. Recovery of lost populations then becomes much more difficult than bringing in a few individuals and turning them loose.
Many young birds learn much by observing their parents, and parrots need to learn more than most. Survival of released individuals is severely undermined if there are no free-living elder role models. Trying to restore parrot populations by captive breeding is not as easy as training young or orphaned creatures to recognise what is food while they are in the safety of a cage – then simply opening the door. You cannot train them to know where, when and how to find that food, or about trees with good nest sites. Parents would normally have done exactly that.
A generational break in cultural traditions hampered attempts to reintroduce thick-billed parrots to parts of south-west America, where they had been wiped out. Conservation workers could not teach the captive-raised parrots to search for and find their traditional wild foods, skills they would have learned from parents.
Senior Category (13-16 Years)
Winner/Overall Winner: George Metcalfe (aged 16), Haberdasher's Boy's School
The Big Finale
Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. Welcome to the most spectacular show on Earth! Prepare to be dazzled, amazed, and enthralled as I unleash the world of wonder and excitement to you. Suspend your disbelief, for tonight, you are about to embark on a journey beyond your wildest imagination. So, sit back, relax, and let the magic unfold before your very eyes. This is it: the Big Finale.
Our stage is a forest in the heart of New Zealand’s wilderness. Tall eucalyptus trees tower over like guardians protecting their territory. Their rough, scared trunks bear witness to the passage of time, while their thin branches dance in the cool breeze. Beneath them, held like hostages, are various clumps of bushes, some bearing more vegetation than others. They cling to the dry earth beneath them, as if disdaining to be sucked up into the sky.
Surrounding this helpless family of plants is a circle of fire, and our performer, an innocent little kiwi, is standing right at its centre. The flames come as little golden balls, igniting the night, outshining the stars. The leaping flames burn like a temper, jumping from tree to tree as they close in on our little soldier. Our warrior. Our martyr. Each tree they target becomes victim to its destruction, and from each carcass, trails of black smoke twirl heavenward, making an artistry of its swirls and flow.
Meanwhile, our slight little kiwi stands erect and motionless. Its round, brown feathered body sits awkwardly on two spindly, knobbly legs. Two jet-black pupils swim in its pear-shaped head that pokes from side to side, desperate for a means of escape. Its wings, mere vestiges of flight, are folded neatly by its sides. Its beady eyes trail the sky, watching its cousin birds take flight and break the earth’s stratosphere. High above our flightless entertainer, these birds fly on invisible strings, moving in choreographed melody. Their long, strong wings beat patterns into the chlorine-blue sky, stretching it taunt into silk.
Around our actor, still subjected to the crusty soil that lines the forest floor, our stage collapses; trees, victims to the raging fire, fall like soldiers, throwing splintering timbers and shards of wood in all directions. He hops around them in an effort to prolong his survival. Those trees that once offered canopy and shelter, now poke out of the ground like sticks of charcoal, no more vibrant that lamp posts in a city. The air smells and tastes like a bonfire, while the horizon glows orange beneath the smoky wind-dragged plume. The circle is closing and its time for our star to shine. His eyes are racing back and forth in his skull, his feet are twitching nervously, and his head is rolling in its socket. He crouches down, his wiry beak tickling the floor. He waits there, braced for impact while the hungry flames close in on him.
Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. This is it: the Big Finale.
Runner-up: Nidhi Nadagouda (aged 14), Oldmachar Academy
The Slow Killer
I slide through the thick amazon rainforests damp ground. My scales completely covered in moist mud. Vigilant at all times for my next prey. My forked black tongue itching for any form of food. I haven’t eaten in weeks, and I am starting to get frustrated. My obvious pride and confidence are usually what frightens the other animals away.
I practically own this part of the jungle with my venomous hiss and gruesome hunting techniques. If any animal sees me, they run away in hysteria and panic and immediately clear my path. I fear no other animal in this jungle, and I live like a king. For animals like me living in this hostile environment is either a hit or miss, sometimes we get a rodent every day other times we starve for weeks on end. It is our personality and determination that lets us come out on top.
I am independent, cunning, and powerful all rodents cower at the sound of my name. I am the anaconda. I have been living in the jungle for multiple years and I fend for myself very well as I’m an extremely skilled hunter. Unfortunately, this time I got the short end of the stick and have not been able to find food and secure a catch. My hunger has been building up for over four weeks now and I’m excited to break my fast.
Suddenly I have an idea I decide to divert from my regular route and go of course. The river is quite literally a metropolis of animals as they all journey there to drink so I might find a meaty rodent to feast on. Now in a better mood I turn and slither towards the river. Gliding over all the twigs and leaves that are littered across the ground.
It’s especially humid today which makes it an even better time for a meal. Once I turn and the river is in sight, I see the most sensational thing. It’s a small capybara resting and drinking from the river, with no idea what danger is lurking around the corner. I can feel the starvation brewing inside of me. I slide over to the unsuspecting capybara as silently as I can. Being right behind the rodent I use my strong jaws to capture the prey. Biting through its soft plush skin. The emotions of euphoria and true bliss go through me. I twist myself around the capybara and suffocate it before I swallow it whole.
Now the feeling of emptiness has disappeared, and I can continue with my day feeling well fed. I would feel bad for the helpless rodent, but unfortunately this is the battle of survival and I have just won it.
Runner-up: Edie Cook (aged 13), Penrice Academy
Ravens of the Moor
We are the wraiths of the dawn and dusk. Silent. Swooping. We are of and from the night, ebony slicked feathers gleaming in the sunlight, moonlight and starlight. We are considered bad luck and ill health to the superstitious, some even detest us, scream at us to leave and never return. And we do not. We are vain and superior to all others, and mere humans can not deter us from of arrogance. We return to where we belong, in the wild winds and rocky slopes of the Moors, our clan, never to be dispersed. We nest and live among jagged boulders and smoothed stone slabs, haughty, proud, mystery hanging in a cloud like aura around us.
We are of those who stand by one another, who never fail to fend off rivals who come to destroy our unkindness, our families. We are forever loyal to our clan. We are unruffled by those who wish us harm, humans and birds alike, we screech and plunge through the air to dodge the traps, dodge the poachers. We own our lives and should be free to live them as we choose. No one may defy us.
We fly on through the depths of Winter and Spring, Summer and Autumn, day and night. And when we fly, nothing else matters. We are forever loyal to the sky and winds that rule our lives at the same instance that they allow us to break the boundaries and be utterly free to fly on to eternity.
We are the Ravens of the Moors.
Highly Commended: May Vaughan (aged 14), Stratford Girls Grammar School
Unfurling yourself, opening up to the taunting of Spring
You sing, sending your sighs coursing through the haze of this place
stuttered echolocation an answered prayer
Black dust darkening dusk race through the air
This colony was a cacophony, a cloud to raze the sky
And now you are whisper of Bechstein’s bats.
Oak and ash plucked from their poise
The forest tries to cry, but we have stifled the noise
Wings surge through this grave
they hunt hope, enough for today
Scattered homes the remains of this maze
Hushed frequencies their pleas through ruptured veins.
Highly Commended: Lucy Mary Farrell (aged 14), Home Educated
A Vixen’s Tale
I am Vixen. I live with my four cubs: Scar, Mudsock, Patch and Todd. We live on the outskirts of Bluebell Wood. Scar is the oldest. He got his name from the scar under his left eye after venturing too close to a badger sett when he was younger. Mudsock has darker brown socks than the others. Plus, she has a habit of covering herself with mud and splattering everyone else with it. Patch is so named because her dark patches remained longer than her siblings, before turning to the full coat of red. Todd is the youngest. He’s also the most mischievous. They all have quite different personalties: Scar is grumpy, Mudsock is bold, Patch is shy and Todd is playful.
I love them all, although Todd and Mudsock do sometimes get on my nerves. Scar is usually sulking in his burrow or is in the woods with his siblings. Todd loves to pounce on bracken pretending it’s his prey. I am always trying to teach Mudsock how to hunt but she is usually too busy playing in the mud to pay enough attention. Patch sometimes tries to copy Mudsock but stops before they get too muddy. One of my favourite things to do with my cubs is to cuddle down with them in the morning. And this one began like so many others. I feel my cubs soft fur against me. For me, this is truly a slice of heaven.
And then I hear it. The horn of horror. The cubs immediately fearful of what is going to happen, as they heard that dreadful noise before watching their father being ripped to pieces. A look of sorrow passes between us. I yearn to stay with my cubs but my strongest emotion is to keep them safe. I take one last look at them: a look that told them everything in a heartbeat, a look that told them to stay there; that I would lead the danger away and that I loved them all so very much. Then I rush out of my earth to see. I turn, unsure of which way to go. Then I see them on their horses. Elegant. Excited. Yet dedicated to death… mine.
I scramble towards the meadow, my potential way out. I can now hear their pants bringing doom ever closer. Their bloodthirsty howls fill me with terror, but the thought of my cubs being discovered even more so.
I stumble. I feel their hot knives sink into me. The flowers around me turn from many colours to just one. Red. The cool earth beneath me is warmed briefly by my blood. Death has taken its toll.
I am now the past. I have no present. My cubs are the future.