Friday, 21 June 2013

Natural inspiration at Hickling Broad

Jessica Riederer, Seasonal Education Officer
When I drove out of NWT Hickling Broad National Nature Reserve last Friday, I found myself thinking, ‘That was one fabulous day!’ 

As one of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Seasonal Education Officers, I am well aware of the challenges and delights that each new day teaching on our reserves can bring. Student ages, personalities, teacher objectives, coach arrival times and weather all contribute to this. For example, I always know I am in for an interesting day when 60 four year olds get off a bus at one of our reserves at 9:30 in the morning and start getting their lunches out.   Similarly, it can be slightly disheartening (but amusing at the same time) when you are pointing out a gorgeous damselfly and you think a student is going to ask a damselfly inspired question when instead he asks, ‘When is playtime?’ (And of course, no matter how great a day you think students are having, you can always count on a visiting five year old to ask, ‘When is it home time?’ when it is only 11 o’clock in the morning!)    

Large red damselfly, photo by Jessica Riederer
As an Education Officer, my objective for all students visiting NWT reserves – no matter how old they are – is to enhance their awe and appreciation of nature and to hopefully encourage them to do something positive for wildlife. Passion is contagious. We have heard this phrase thousands of times, and as I move through my 15th year as an educator, I know this to be true. Sometimes however, when things are not quite going to plan, such as when coaches are late and we are pushed for time, or when sheets of rain are falling, showing and feeling that all important passion and enthusiasm can be a challenge. The weather is warming up though, and our reserves are springing into life, and the passion and joy I need to feel to inspire children and adults is now always present. On 14 June, in the blissful spring sun, Hickling really revealed itself to me for the first time. Experiencing the reserve in all its glory with two fantastic volunteers, Kirsty Bailey and David Fieldhouse, and a visiting class of incredibly enthusiastic eight year olds, proved to be one of my favourite days representing NWT so far.  

Once introductions had taken place, and I had confirmed to thirty excited nine year olds that Hickling was indeed a great place for animals to live because ‘no one will come and shoot them,’ we were off to a good start. The students’ day was to be divided into dyke dipping, a habitat walk and their own explorations of Hickling. As usual, dyke dipping delivered its full array of splendours, from great diving beetle larvae with their massive jaws and camouflaged stalking dragonfly nymphs to tiny transparent water fleas and everything in between.  

During our habitat walks, NWT education officers and volunteers show students and accompanying adults a small section of the reserve, highlighting the various habitats and species found within them. Students also have the opportunity to examine skulls and bones and other items found on our reserves as they explore the trails. I like to begin my habitat walks challenging children to become nature detectives and keep their eyes and ears open for animals buzzing, singing, fluttering, slithering and crawling. There was so much life at Hickling on Friday that I could hardly get the students off the grass by the centre. Within minutes they were gathered around the gorse, oohing and awing over the coconut scented blossoms and pointing to bumblebee laden Red campion flowers and scuttling beetles and spiders. Large red and common blue damselflies flitted around the gorse, tolerating exclamations of ‘Oh my goodness, how beautiful is he!’ or ‘Miss, Miss – look how bright his colours are!’  These, of course, are exactly the kinds of words I love to hear.  

Common lizard, photo by Jessica Riederer
Like most educators, I am always evaluating my sessions. As one of a team of NWT’s Seasonal educators, we are always asking ourselves – what more can we do to inspire children about, and connect them to, these incredible landscapes? I continually push to instill in children a sense of awe and wonder – and hopefully a love for what they are experiencing. As we explored Hickling on Friday, all of the students experienced many firsts; swallowtail butterflies hurriedly fluttering by, brightly coloured lizards basking on the walkways, dragonflies dueling over the dyke dipping platforms, damselflies challenging the dragonflies and the list goes on.  

Aside from the amazing wildlife I get to encounter every day on NWT reserves, my favourite moments are listening to children’s conversations amongst themselves. On Friday, at Hickling, as students walked along the boardwalks, one student said to me, ‘This place is so amazing. I wish I didn’t ever have to leave.’ Another student told me, ‘I wish I could live here.’ But my favourite words to hear from students visiting our reserves on any day will always be, ‘I can’t believe how much fun this is.’ 

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