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   Inside Out - East: Monday February 21, 2005

FAIRIES

Fairie gateway sign
Step through the gateway to a magical fairyland!

Once upon a time in Victorian Britain, we all believed in fairies. But how did we lose our belief? And how could a new-found appreciation for fairies help children learn about nature?

Inside Out goes fairy-spotting to find out.

Many many years ago, Britain was full of trees, in magical woodlands, where children could run free and explore the wonders of nature.

But now industry has triumphed over nature and most of today's children would rather go to a theme park than an enchanted woodland clearing.

So why are a group of fairy enthusiasts enlisting the help of the Norfolk countryside to help educate children and save the environment?

Airy-fairy

Children being taught about nature
Children can take part in all sorts of activities at the Fairy Fair

Welcome to the Fairy Fair, where hundreds of children and their families have gathered hoping for a truly magical time.

In the grounds of Mannington Hall, everywhere you look there are children roaming among the trees in search of mystical beings.

The air is filled with the sound of live music and there are little fairies and wizards dressed in ethereal costumes skipping from one stall to the next.

But what is the reason behind this gathering of fairy fans?

The answer is the Fairyland Trust, an organisation founded by former Greenpeace campaigner Sarah Wise.

Sarah set up the trust with her husband Chris, a former nature warden and founder of the British Association of Nature Conservationists, after their daughter gave them a brilliant idea.

She explains, "I used to work in the conservation movement for many years and so did my partner.

"When our little girl was three she said to us, 'I want to go to the kind of place where I can look for fairies,' and this gave us this great idea.

Sarah Wise
Sarah believes that fairies can help children learn about nature

"Nearly every child at some stage of their life is into fairies and magic and witches and wizards.

"Where we'd been working before you were only talking to maybe 5% of the population and we wanted to reach out to everybody.

"Now we've got hundreds of children coming with their families.

"We hope when they go home at the end of the day that they have learnt about nature in a really fun and magical way."

Sarah and her husband Chris, who live in Norfolk, decided to create a way for children to learn about nature by using their imagination, as she continues:

"We thought 'this is a brilliant way of engaging children with nature.'

"When you ask a child where they think fairies live, they'll describe an ancient tree or a meadow full of flowers - they immediately connect nature with fairies."

Since coming up with the idea, the couple's magical beliefs have taken them all over the country, in search of land the trust can transform into a countryside wonderland.

By re-planting wild plants, flowers and trees, the trust hopes to encourage children to explore their imagination and learn about conservation in the process.

Magic and mystery

Chris Wise
Chris Wise thinks nature should be accessible to everyone

The, 'Fairyland', sites seem like the natural antidote to other attractions like leisure parks and nature reserves, as Chris explains:

"For thousands of years fairies and nature were a gateway to another world.

"Now fairies have become a gateway to nature because people have become so separated from it.

"If you think back to the age before television, most of the things people learned about nature were because they lived close to it.

"They walked down lanes, they didn't go in cars, and you learnt about nature through things like festivals and May dancing and gathering blossoms.

"That has all stopped - nature's been compartmentalised, packaged and put into specialist pursuits like going to a nature reserve, which is great but it only appeals to a small number of people."

That's why Chris and Sarah started running Fairy Fairs, so children could enjoy discovering nature through their belief in all things magic.

The fairs feature all kinds of magical events, where would-be fairies can get to grips with wing and wand making and hear the latest magical tales.

Children dressed as fairies
Fun for all the family!

They can even make special potions, with hand-picked natural ingredients of course, before visiting the Pixie Post Office to send a mystical message to their friends.

And it's not just the kids who get involved in the fairy fun, as Chris explains:

"We often can't get the dads out of the dens in the woods - sometimes they are there for hours and hours!

"We get whole families building dens, which are simple things that many people remember doing as children.

"We often find the grandparents say 'I made crowns when I was a little girl but I never did it with my girls' and now the mums are there with the kids and we're sort of reconnecting that circle that was lost."

So it seems that fairies can even use their magical powers to bring families together for a fun day out.

But how can fairies inspire us to go searching through the countryside when most of us have no idea what a fairy really looks like, or even if they exist?

Mystical history

Inside Out presenter Jessica Whittaker recreates the famous fairy photograph
Inside Out presenter Jessica Whittaker recreates the famous fairy photograph

The notion of fairies dates back to the Victorian era, when two friends presented a photo to the world supposedly depicting a circle of fairies dancing in the bottom of the garden.

The famous image, taken in 1917, was a product of trick photography, but ever since it was taken people have been fascinated with the idea of magical creatures living just out of our sight.

In actual fact, the idea of fairies can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when it was believed that they were tiny demons, bound with witch craft to get up to mischief.

But it was in the Dark Ages when the Anglo Saxons came up with the idea that there were fairies living all around them in the forests.

It is with this notion that modern day wizard and author Professor Brian Bates believes that fairies still have a part to play in our country's natural history.

Professor Bates, whose book, 'The Way of Wyrd,' explores the notion of magical beings, explains:

"In Anglo-Saxon tradition we are part of nature so being interested in the environment means interacting with it in an enchanted way because that is what connects us with the environment.

Professor Brian Bates
Professor Bates thinks the Fairyland Trust is a great idea

"For us, the skin is what divides us from the rest of the world, but for the Anglo-Saxons that is what joined them," he says.

"We are inside ourselves sitting in this wood and the wood is inside us - they didn't see themselves as being separated."

And Professor Bates believes the Fairyland Trust is doing a good job of regenerating interest in the countryside.

He says, "What's beautiful about something like a fairyland is trying to help people be in touch with the enchanted aspect of the environment.

"It is not just seeing it as something we ought to save, it is actually understanding that the environment is inside us, so to enchant it us to connect to the environment with your heart, not just your mind."

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
Garden treasures

On bbc.co.uk
Calling all boggarts, elves and fairies

On the rest of the web
Fairyland Trust

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

SUE CROSS
I TOOK A STEP OR TWO BACK IN LIFE TO WHEN I WAS A SMALL CHILD. I NOW HAVE THREE GRANDAUGHTERS AND GRANDSONS AND WOULD VERY MUCH LIKE TO VISIT A FAIRYFAIR WITH THEM. PLEASE COULD YU TELL ME WHEN & WHERE THEY ARE??? TO BE AWAY FROM AN ELECTRONIC WORLD FOR A DAY WOULD BE MAGIC FOR THE CHILDREN AND ME. THANK YOU FOR THE PROGRAMME IT WAS WONDERFUL.

Joanne Mitchell
I loved your feature on fairies and have a couple of grand children who believe that the fairies live down the bottom of my garden. In order to allow them to understand that I am not the only nanny in the world to have access to fairies, I would like to know if there is a schedule for the fairy fairs that I could take my grand children to?



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