If you're an RSPB member, I am sure you will have read that connecting people, especially young people, with nature is a high priority for the RSPB. But what does this mean, and why is it important?
As nature-lovers, we're all acutely aware that habitats have been shrinking fast: tropical rainforests, temperate grasslands, wetlands that give life to nature and to people. But what about us humans? When I was a kid, my habitats were the field, woodlands and hill behind my parents' house; my home range was about a mile, the distance that 11-year old me was allowed to go and play, or on my bike.
But children's habitat and home range is shrinking. How far can 11-year olds roam now? It seems that for each successive generation, the world is shrinking. Yes, we can see much more of it at the tap of a smartphone screen, but we experience much less. And experience is what human society is built on. Have a read of this newspaper article to get a flavour of how our children's experience is diminishing. This RSPB report on Connecting with Nature presents research that, shockingly, children growing up in Wales have the lowest connection with nature of any part of the UK.
Nature is fantastic, it's a wonder that I want to share with everyone, anyone who will listen. But far better than reading or hearing about it is to come and get stuck in. See it up-close-and-personal with someone who can inspire you.
We want everyone who visits Conwy to have that opportunity, and there are two ways we've been doing that through the Summer thanks to our brilliant volunteers.
The best classroom is outside
Since the start of April, almost 2,500 children have spent at least half-a-day at RSPB Conwy with their schools - and another 300 have already booked for the next few months. Michelle, our Learning Officer, and her team of volunteers, including our Learning Intern Jonni, took these children out of their classroom to explore the habitats and wildlife of the nature reserve. Pond-dipping is always popular, of course, but other groups have come to learn about grassland bugs, woodlands or coastal processes, all part of their curriculum.
We get great feedback, both formal evaluation by teachers and in the letters, pictures and poems sent to us by children, but for the Learning Team, the best feedback is immediate. The 'wow' moments when a child experiences something for the first time, appreciating how amazing wildlife is. We know, from conversations with adult visitors, that they remember coming to the reserve 20 years before, and it left quite an impression. It's even better when we meet families who come a few weeks after a school visit because their son or daughter has been so excited by what they discovered that they want more.
North Wales primary schools coming to Conwy have, this year, benefited from a generous donation from Aldi, from the carrier bag charge, who are working with The RSPB to connect half a million children to nature. If you're a teacher, why not book your class in for a visit? Visit our website to see the programmes we have available.
Wild About Nature
As well as school visits, we connect children with nature in other ways: families participating in one of our seasonal self-guided trails, at one of our many events, and even our popular children's birthday parties. This year we have added another element to the mix: our Wild About Nature volunteers.
Our Wild About Nature project is recruiting volunteers who want to share their enthusiasm for nature with visitors to Conwy. With help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, they are helping to bring our natural heritage to life. You can read more about it here.
Koreen Perkins, one of our ‘Wild about Nature’ volunteers told me how she got involved:
"I saw the advert in the cafe at RSPB Conwy for volunteers who are ‘wild about nature.’ I’ve always been into nature; especially bird life and I’ve always had an interest in pond life. So I found out more about what was involved, and I joined the Wild About Nature volunteers. From children’s birthday party activities including bug and pond life to family drop in wildlife events, I have been helping the team to set up their well organised activities for various sessions throughout the summer holidays."
"Bringing nature to the younger generations is the most rewarding experience. Being a ‘Wild about nature’ volunteer is also giving me confidence whilst in between jobs. I’m learning as I go along and discovering more about the work of the RSPB."
So, making connections with nature is great for kids and families, but it's also great for volunteers too. They bring their skills to the RSPB and have an opportunity to learn new things and extend themselves. If you would like to join Koreen and volunteer with Wild About Nature, have a read of what's involved and get in touch!