woolley-photoKat Wooley Education Officer & Trainee Forest School Practitioner, Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

The county of Yorkshire is big: approximately 11,903 square kilometres (thanks Wikipedia) and has a population of just over 5 million. Yorkshire also has a wide and varied landscape, which is rather exciting for staff at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to work in. However, many folk from Yorkshire, especially children, do not get to experience the vibrant and varied landscape this county has to offer because Yorkshire is so large. Our long term aim is to provide a Yorkshire rich in wildlife for everyone.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) has four main gateway sites: Stiffly Community Farm in Huddersfield; Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, Doncaster; Spurn National Nature Reserve near Hull; and the Living Seas Centre in Flamborough. There are also active sites where events are run: Appleton Mill Farm near Malton and Pearson Park Wildlife Garden in Hull. Events are also run on the other 90+ nature reserves that YWT manage. All of these sites are receiving visitors who have interests in wildlife but also people who haven’t had much
interaction at all with the natural environment, through arranged visits.

Marine and coastal environments

The Living Seas Centre and Spurn National Nature Reserve base their activities on the marine and coastal environment. Regular events such as ‘Seashore Safari’ and beach cleans engage the public with the coast and coastal issues. Spurn Point runs regular ‘Spurn Safaris’ which include a ride on the Unimog (a large off-road vehicle which looks like a tank). These sites both take regular visits from schools from KS1 pupils through to
A-level and university students.

‘Waves of Waste’ at the Living Seas Centre

Sadly, litter is now a common sight on our beaches, with Waves of Waste washing up each day. Take a walk along the shore, for each item of litter we find we will ask the following questions: What is it? Where did it come from? How does it affect marine wildlife? Success criteria include:

  • gathering and recording data to help in answering questions
  • reporting and presenting findings
  • comparing and grouping a variety of everyday materials by their simple properties
  • recognising environments can be changed by humans and this can pose dangers to living things

Urban wildife

Potteric Carr Nature Reserve is a draw for visitors looking for tranquillity in the midst of urban Doncaster. Boxed in by motorways and developments, it is a special wetland landscape home to some rare species like Bittern and Marsh Harrier.  The students that come to Potteric Carr come to learn about habitats and living things. There are woodlands, meadows, ponds, and reed beds for us to explore and learn about the adaptations of the creatures that live there. To aid this study of the habitats, pupils are given a creature passport to record their findings in each habitat. A 2-sided folded up piece of paper in the form of a passport.  Some pupils write letters to us after their field trip, one of the recent letters said: “It was the best adventure I have ever been on” (Charlotte from Tickhill Estfeld Primary School). Isla from the same class said: “The funniest part was when you tried to catch a butterfly”. Well, I do try!

Farming and wildlife

Stirley Community Farm is our gateway site in West Yorkshire with the aim to demonstrate that farming and wildlife can exist hand-in-hand, whilst sustaining itself as a viable farming business. The site has only been developed in the past six years and has a lovely barn conversion which is a great example architecturally of a passive house. Its aims are to improve the understanding of local people of why nature matters for a healthier and happier lifestyle through local food growing and production.

I love wildlife and I like nature. I want nature to be safe.”Family visitor to Stirley Farm.

Footfall to the farm has increased year on year through family visitors, volunteers, schools and community groups; the majority of the visitors are families for events. School groups can visit the farm, plant and harvest food from the allotment then cook it in the Cr8 Barn. This links in well with the Food for Life campaign, linking children to where food comes from.

Educational events

YWT run a programme of monthly events like Nature Tots (for under 4s), Home Education Connection (for home educated families) and U3A Connection for U3A groups. These different monthly events and volunteering opportunities help us to achieve getting people up the ladder of participation. Events are run all across Yorkshire Wildlife Trust sites by our Reserves Officers and Field Officers to our Regional Directors. Everyone offers their expertise to share with the public.  Two YWT gateway site have also started running Forest School, which has proved to be a real draw for the public. It’s really great to see people of all ages so engaged with the outdoors. I asked a group of Year 5s who attended Forest School to make a mud map, the response from one of the students was: “Can I touch the mud?” From then on, at any opportunity, they were in the mud. Delightful to see!  We are delighted as an organisation that we have so many visitors to our gorgeous reserves, and to see how much the visitors get from going out with our Education Officers. It is so important to show people of all ages what Yorkshire has to offer in terms of wildlife, when from what I hear from school children is that they know more about exotic wildlife than what is on their doorstep.

For more information go to: ywt.org.uk/reserves

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This article was first published in NAEE’s Autumn 2016 journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 113).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.