Working towards WILDER Lives

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Logo: Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

By Dawn Preston, Education Officer (Swanwick Lakes)

Swanwick Lakes Wildlife TOTS water stick insect found at pond dip session © Dawn Preston
Swanwick Lakes Wildlife TOTS water stick insect found at pond dip session © Dawn Preston

Today I had to WhatsApp message my furloughed education colleagues with exciting news – I found a water hog louse in my less than year old mini washing up bowl pond! Many of you will no doubt share my excitement whilst others may well shrug and say ‘well, it’s no [insert charismatic species of choice here]’ but in my work as an outdoor educator I have come to realise the value in observing, learning about and sharing enthusiasm for everyday wildlife encounters, as well as the special ones.

Out of the 23 scheduled events we should have delivered through May 2020, over half were planned with family audiences in mind. So why do we offer so many ‘edutainment’ sessions for families? As an organisation and industry, we know we are in challenging times - not only the current Coronavirus restrictions but the now obvious, critical effects of the ecological and climate emergencies. There is now far wider public recognition of the urgency and scale of changes that need to be made to reverse these declines. In fact, an Ipsos MORI poll published in April shows that 66% of Britons believe that in the long-term Climate Change is as serious a crisis as COVID-19. i However, awareness and concern do not always translate into action.

Research has shown that people have to care about wildlife and the natural world – have a real connection to nature - before they will take action to save or help it. ii With this in mind we are actively broadening our offer based on research showing that just imparting wildlife knowledge – as in perhaps more traditional field studies or environmental education – is not enough to foster this connection to nature.

‘The findings indicate that contact, emotion, meaning, compassion, and beauty are pathways for improving nature connectedness. The pathways also provide alternative values and frames to the traditional knowledge and identification routes often used by organisations when engaging the public with nature.’ iii

Blashford Lakes Wildlife TOTS observing a cinnabar moth caterpillar © Tracy Standish
Blashford Lakes Wildlife TOTS observing a cinnabar moth caterpillar © Tracy Standish

We have begun to plan, market and deliver events and programmes for children, young people and families actively using the five pathways to nature connection framework and I talk through a couple in more detail below.

Wildlife TOTS

Our sessions for children under 5’s and their parents or carers are run monthly at several different locations with the aim of this repeat contact increasing wildlife awareness for everyone attending, as well as enabling parents and carers to feel more confident in taking their young children out and about to natural spaces independently. Ecophobia is a growing concern – children being given negative messages about the natural world that they have no agency to do anything about, so we are actively choosing to deliver positive interactions with ‘everyday’ wildlife to support our young children’s innate interest in the world around them.

As an example, we were due to be going pond dipping with our Swanwick Lakes Wildlife TOTS this month, and our connection to nature session aims looked like this:

5 Pathways to nature connection: -

  1. Contact: With the invertebrates & plants found in pond plus other incidental surrounding (i.e. ducks/small birds/adult dragon & damselflies)
  2. Beauty: Make a scrap collage of our pond
  3. Meaning: Recording new learning in logbook
  4. Emotion: Expressed in logbook or at end of session reflection
  5. Compassion: Careful moving & looking at pond life; returning everything to pond once pond dip completed. Activity to take home - Wildlife WATCH make a wildlife pond / edible pond

The ‘log-books’ are small journals that are given to TOTS participants for the children and parents and carers to use to document new things they have found out about as well as their thoughts and feelings about these – often new or first time – experiences. Many of our TOTS children will attend our monthly sessions for two or three years, so these logbooks are a wonderful way of tracking their first hand encounters with wildlife, the seasons and different habitats, as well as their developing physical, emotional and social skills.

At the other end of the age range, our work with young people has an increasing importance for us, not least because these individuals will soon be making decisions and taking actions as adults, and we need these to be pro-environmental and in support of wildlife and natures recovery. We know young people become more independent and want to step away from attending sessions with their families - our Wildlife Rangers and Young Naturalist’s sessions are aimed at 12 to 18 year olds.

Young Naturalists

Young Naturalists checking the moth trap Blashford Lakes © Lianne de Mello
Young Naturalists checking the moth trap Blashford Lakes © Lianne de Mello

Since October 2015, this monthly meeting group that are based at Blashford Lakes have explored in depth the wildlife at many reserves and amazing locations, undertaken a wide variety of conservation tasks, and practiced bush craft skills. They often camp out or have residential stays at inspiring places such as their most recent trip to the Countryside Education Trust’s Home Farm Centre at Beaulieu.

This programme is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust and was set up to counter the lack of fun but informed groups where under 18’s can meet up and share their love of wildlife. As one of our Young Naturalist’s expressed it:

‘All things to do with nature are usually aimed at young children, but this is really cool.’

All our education and engagement work is now supporting the Trust’s two aims of creating a WILDER Hampshire and Isle of Wight with more people on nature’s side and more space for wildlife to thrive. Our clear and ambitious aim of achieving 1 in 4 people taking positive action for nature by 2030, gives a clear focus for our work helping children, young people and families to find ways to increase and deepen their connection to nature. iv

As a member of Trust staff this is hugely inspiring and only increases my enthusiasm to get out and deliver more of these opportunities. On that note, I’ve just heard the blackbird beginning to sing in next door’s garden, so I am heading back out to see what other everyday wildlife I can find to observe, learn about and share my enthusiasm for!

For further information:

Young Naturalists Blog:

Hampshire & IOW Wildlife Trust WILDER 2030:



ii   Rosa et al (2018) Nature Experiences and Adults’ Self-Reported Pro-environmental Behaviours: The Role of Connectedness to Nature and Childhood Nature Experiences Front. Psychol., 26 June 2018

iii   Lumber et al (2017) Beyond knowing nature: Contact, emotion, compassion, meaning, and beauty are pathways to nature connection. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0177186.


First published in CJS Focus on Environmental Education & Outdoor Activities in association with the Countryside Education Trust on 11 May 2020. Read the full issue here

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Posted On: 30/04/2020

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