Apologies again! I realise it’s gone a bit quiet from me since my last post but that’s only because I’ve been so busy putting together lots of exciting games, crafts and activities as part of our Skydancer outreach programme for local schools. I can’t wait to start putting it all into action! Check out these amazing hen harrier puppets we commissioned from local artists Jessie and Andrew Mills.

At the heart of any successful conservation or awareness-raising project must ultimately lie education, not least because young people are very quick to share what they’ve learned. I remember someone once telling me that for every child or young person you teach, on average they will tell five other people (often their parents or family members) and those five people will each tell another three. So in effect, you’re not teaching one person, you’re really teaching 21! Now how accurate that really is, I can’t say but anyone who has children or has worked with them can’t deny that there feels an instinctive element of truth in it. Either way, to quote the late, great Whitney Houston, I believe that children are our future. Whoever they tell, they themselves are the next generation of decision makers – the politicians, conservationists, moorland managers and landowners of tomorrow – and if we can inspire these young people to cherish the upland landscape and the hen harrier’s place within it, then a future is what we might just have for these magnificent birds in England.

 Fortunately for me, working with children and young people is one of the aspects of the job I love most! I’ve worked with all age groups in various capacities over the years and lesson number one is that you should never underestimate them, or their capacity for understanding, logic and reasoning. For that reason, our Skydancer secondary school workshops are not based solely on us charging in and saying “Hen harriers are brilliant!” (though of course, I do have several rolls of awesome-looking stickers that say exactly that!) but rather on presenting students with the facts and allowing them to talk through the issues and debate it for themselves. As I said in my last post, it’s all about walking a mile in another person’s shoes, and it’s amazing, given the chance, how astute they can be! Particularly considering that prior to the workshop, most groups have never even heard of a hen harrier and don't know the first thing about grouse shooting.

 Year 7 pupils at St Joseph’s Middle School, Hexham, were the first to try out the Skydancer workshop and it was an absolutely brilliant day, provoking a really lively debate! Pupils were encouraged to think outside their usual roles and look at the issue of hen harriers nesting on a local grouse moor from a range of viewpoints including landowners, gamekeepers, conservationists, and local business owners. In the end, it was a good day all round for hen harriers and grouse shooting as a final vote decided that both should be promoted and encouraged alongside one another for the benefit of all concerned! (Now if we can just convince the adults...)

 As one girl said, “We are very lucky to live so close to these birds!”Year 7 pupils from St Joseph's Middle School, Hexham, debate the issues

Year 7 pupils from St Joseph's Middle School, Hexham, debate the issues.

We received excellent feedback from St Joseph’s teachers and pupils alike and are now offering the workshop to secondary schools in and around all three Skydancer areas – North Tynedale, Geltsdale and the Forest of Bowland. If you know a school that would be interested in receiving a workshop, please don't hesitate to drop me an email at blanaid.denman@rspb.org.uk.

 Next week, I start visiting primary schools... bring on the puppets, costumes, songs and games!