Wednesday, 13 February 2013

What makes a good environmental educator?

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

Passion, enthusiasm and an ability to communicate one’s own relationship and understanding of nature to others is a good starting point!
It’s easy to inspire others about wildlife at NWT nature reserves such as Hickling Broad, Holme Dunes or Cley Marshes: these are spectacular nature sites with a fantastic diversity of species, landscapes and habitats. 

Wildlife watcher, by Emma Bradshaw
The test of a good environmental educator is not that they can teach here but that they can take a common daisy growing on the edge of a school playing field, or a tatty, gappy hawthorn hedge on the boundary of a housing estate, and enable a young person to see these everyday things in entirely new ways. To see a common daisy in such a new way that it changes a young person’s perspective on the planet and on their own relationship with nature. Wherever and whenever we have opportunities to teach about nature we should be able to quite literally open people’s eyes to the everyday and commonplace in their environment in totally new ways: for every pupil to notice for the first time at least six new things in their school grounds which they have walked past every day without really ‘looking’. Teaching that enables children to understand their local environment from new perspectives. To see the world from an earthworm’s perspective and understand what Darwin first truly ‘saw’, that our lives are not only linked through evolution to an earthworm’s – we are literally fellow travellers and family members – but also to see the earthworm as a crucial part of our own life support system.

Children may only be 20% of our population but they are 100% of our future. If we fail to connect them to nature, to enable them to build their own personal relationship with wildlife and wild places then conservation has no future. As individuals we always care most for those things, people and places that we have a personal relationship with. If our children – if a whole generation who no longer play outside – fail to develop a relationship with the natural world, then conservation is doomed and we have failed.

Did you know that 64% of children today play outside less than once a week? That 28% haven’t been on a country walk in the past year and 20% have never been to a farm and  have never climbed a tree?  Fewer and fewer children can recognise even common species of wildlife around them. Even species like oak trees, blue tits and buttercups are unknown to them. Wildlife Trusts including Norfolk Wildlife Trust see opening children’s eyes to nature as just as important to the future of conservation as buying nature reserves. Education remains at the core of any sustainable conservation strategy. 

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