Lorna Fox says that inspiring the next generation of conservationists has always been an important part of the work we do at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).  Our learning sessions are a big part of how we do this.  Over the years we have engaged with over two million school children at our nine visitor centres across the UK.

This year the learning team at WWT have taken outdoor education to the next level. New work-shops being run by the charity are giving learners the opportunity to experience first-hand how con-servationists work, using both new technology and tried and tested data collection practices.

At the beginning of this academic year the ‘Flight of the Swans’ expedition gave the learning team a unique springboard for creating a more dynamic session based on their already successful migration workshops.  The session How can we help migratory birds? teaches pupils about migration, the risk birds face during migration and how scientists track the birds to learn more about them. In this pupil-led session, children observe and investigate migratory bird species and their habitats and explore the reserve with tracking capabilities, just like the ones WWT scientists use.

“It was a day of unforgettable learning,” said Brett Stevenson, Executive Head at Walmore Hill Primary, Gloucestershire.

“Every pupil had the chance to better understand migration, to put the migratory journey of different species around the world into context, and to discover the challenges they face when making these incredible journeys.” 

The skills and enquiry-based sessions are part of a learning journey that starts with pre-visit information given to teachers to prepare pupils for the day and then concludes with tasks done back at school with the information they have collected on the day.  It is this learning journey that really impacts on a pupil’s tendency towards conserving nature and wetlands in the future.

In another session, How and why do we monitor birds? pupils use GPS trackers to find their way around the site and take photographs on digital cameras to identify and count birds.  The charity has had pockets of funding to support the use of technology during the sessions.  Sophie Beattie, a secondary teacher at Sacred Heart School, London, said:

“The kids have really enjoyed the independent style of the task and using the equipment, which we don’t have at school. Seeing them using it in context and understanding how it’s used by conservationists at the Trust has been great,”

Students also use more basic data collection techniques like tally counters to record bird numbers, before entering the data into spreadsheets back at school, just like WWT’s scientists do in their work.  We want our learners to experience what it really is like working as a conservation scientist. Using the cameras and GPS trackers means pupils are en-gaged in the environment around them and using the technology that scientists use brings a new level of engagement for lots of learners.

The charity hopes that the immersive experiences these sessions offer will ignite a passion in wetland wildlife and habitats.  And if not all learners are destined to become the next Peter Scott. at the very least pupils are introduced to new outdoor environments and equipped with valuable scientific, geographic and technological skills.

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Lorna Fox is Learning Advisor at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust This article was first published in NAEE’s 2017  journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 115).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.