Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Living Landscape Learning

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

Taking wildlife out of the ghetto: a Living Landscape approach to educating children about wildlife

Photo by Emma Bradshaw
The Wildlife Trusts are pioneering a new approach to nature conservation working on a landscape scale, recreating, restoring and reconnecting wildlife habitats to create landscapes in which
  • Wildlife is abundant and flourishing, both in the countryside and our towns and cities
  • Whole landscapes and ecosystems have been restored
  • Wildlife is able to move freely through these landscapes and adapt to the effects of climate change
  • Communities are benefitting fully from the fundamental services that healthy ecosystems provide
  • Everyone has access to wildlife-rich green spaces and can enjoy and be inspired by the natural world
Part of my role as Head of People and Wildlife at Norfolk Wildlife Trust is to make sure the activities we use to inspire children about wildlife reflect this approach? The key messages for children from a living landscapes approach are positive ones about creating a future where the places we live, work and play in are better for us and better for wildlife. This approach doesn’t put wildlife in ghettos, whether on nature reserves or in  designated wildlife areas, it puts it back at the heart of our lives.

To me one question is central to a Living Landscape learning approach: are we part of nature or separate from nature?  There is a danger that when children visit our nature reserves that one of the hidden messages they take from their visit is that to enjoy nature we need to go to special places called nature reserves. This message that wildlife is only important in certain special places can be reinforced  back in school where there are ‘wildlife areas’ which are separate from the rest of the school. You  have probably seen one, securely fenced and  only the teacher has a key. Children can only go there when supervised by an adult. If you visit many schools you probably recognise this description. You know the sort of place. There is often a small badly managed pond within the fence and an unkempt area labelled wild flower area.  Nature reserves and school wildlife areas, unless we are thoughtful, can both operate to reinforce a message that nature is separate from our lives and you have to visit special places to be part of it.

Our nature reserve teams and their volunteers are working hard to recreate, restore and reconnect wildlife habitats in our Living Landscape schemes but equally important to the long term success of the Wildlife Trusts Living Landscapes vision is our work as educators.
The type of learning that fits well with our vision for A Living Landscape is one which enables young people to develop their relationship with nature. This Living Landscape Learning for children encourages -
  • Recreation: spending  free time playing outdoors in green spaces. Forest Schools, and other child-led approaches are good examples of this approach
  • Restoring nature: developing practical skills to help wildlife
  • Reconnecting ourselves with nature: most powerfully achieved by direct hands-on, outdoor experiences 
When we succeed in incorporating these into our education programmes the end result is
  • Respect for nature and our place in it
We can measure the success of Living Landscapes learning  by really engaging children in thinking about the sort of future landscapes they wish to be part of and by giving them the knowledge that their choices can either move us towards a Living Landscape or away from it.

In the long run whether nature conservation succeeds or fails depends on the relationship with nature that we have – are we part of the mutually dependent web of life we call nature or are we separate?  Let’s start with our children and show them that nature is all around us. That its beauty can be part of our lives wherever we live and that we  can all be part of creating a Living Landscape whether we live in a City, a town, or the countryside. It’s not only our landscapes that need to become more connected, more permeable for wildlife, it’s also our minds. The challenge is to make both our lives and our landscapes more permeable to wildlife!

Living Landscape learning provides a very positive message focusing children on future landscapes and how these can provide for our needs and nature’s needs ,or rather how this division is  ultimately false as we are all  part of a living planet in which mutual dependence includes us along with the rest of life. That’s the challenge that as Head of People and Wildlife I give to my education team and of course to you as parents reading this post. If our children grow up with a real connection to the nature around them, and this understanding of Living Landscapes, that’s good for nature but it’s also great for our children, and perhaps for the future of all of us and our planet!

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