Friday, 11 September 2015

End of the education season

Norfolk Hawker Dragonfly resting on a reed. 
Image by Steph Ford
Steph Ford, Seasonal Education Officer

So here we are at the end of the season! We seasonal education officers will soon be moving on to pastures new, but before we do here is a taster of our experiences with freshwater invertebrates…

Before my time with Norfolk Wildlife Trust I had never seen a spindly water stick insect, a damselfly nymph emerging from its water-soaked skin to bask on a reed, or a dragonfly nymph chomping hungrily on phantom midge larvae. I thought I was well versed in the goings-on of the freshwater invertebrate world, but during my time as a seasonal my knowledge has increased ten-fold.

I have seen how absorbing it is for families to catch a net of squirming invertebrates, to gaze at the life dispersing in their water-filled tray as they empty their net, and to then put the correct name to each of the squiggling creatures. It’s a great chance to observe the behaviour of the species in the trays- greater water boatmen swimming on their backs through clusters of oxygenating pond weed, Pond Snails gliding lazily across the base of the trays, cased caddis fly larvae camouflaging themselves in their hollow stick homes. Looking down from above, it’s like a whole secret world in a white tray; fights, life cycles and hunting all going on, oblivious to us. It’s a window in on a world rarely seen, but constantly challenged by our actions that can either be positive, such as providing new habitats, or detrimental, such as spraying pesticides or fertilisers that end up in the water. I believe letting children into this realm of smooth skins and gnashing jaws gives them an insight into their responsibility of care to these creatures, and may well end up being the beginning of a life-long passion to protect wildlife.

Great diving beetle larvae eating freshwater 
shrimps, photo by Brian Eversham
I have seen A-Level students exclaim in wonder at great diving beetles zipping about in their bug pots, whilst proudly passing around a specimen pot containing a scarlet-chested stickleback. Young children, encouraged by their parents, are allowed to help hold the net and beam in excitement at being part of a family activity that everyone is involved in. Water scorpions, pond snails, water boatmen, freshwater shrimp, water fleas, pond skaters, water mites and newts have all been caught, studied and admired over the summer and (reluctantly) put back by children.  

Male Stickleback, photo by A.J Thursby
It has really bought home to me how accessible nature can be for everyone, regardless of age, background and ability. Some of these children had never dipped before, and after dispelling a few myths (no, we won’t catch a crocodile/shark/dinosaur) everyone got stuck in and I have no doubt will remember their experience for a long time to come.

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