Kashmir Flint, Environmental Education Officer at the Monkton Nature Reserve (and until recently, NAEE’s Facebook editor), writes about the reserve and about her work there.

Monkton Nature Reserve is a 16-acre former chalk quarry based in Thanet, Kent, run by a small independent charity.  Thanet is one of the most deprived areas in Kent with tree coverage on a similar level to Greater London, with around 80% less canopy cover than the UK average.  Children have very little access to green spaces and even less to environmental education, therefore the reserve serves as a very important asset to the wider community.  Our vision is to be a champion of environmental conservation and education in East Kent. 

We are a small reserve with just three members of staff and I am the sole Environmental Education Officer; yet, last year we held over 35 education sessions with a range of groups, including schools, youth groups (Scouts, Beavers, Brownies), adult groups, and adults with learning difficulties.  The severe lack of environmental education in the wider area means that we have attracted schools from up to 35 miles away! 

The reserve holds a variety of educational activities, from touching extinct dinosaur bones in our newly refurbished museum, to stroking real birds of prey belonging to our ‘Bird Man’ volunteer.  Children can learn about the tiny creatures in a pond, and discover the mind-boggling size of the universe at the observatories.  Walks are held around the quarry, and children can learn about the rich history of the reserve (which was first mined in 1799 and had the UK’s first artificial bat cave built in 1986), as well as identifying its diverse flora and fauna with several species of orchids and rare species such as turtle doves and great crested newts. 

Many schools are returning visitors, having visited for years beforehand and they have rated us highly on our educational activities. 

One teacher said: “[the children] learned a great deal and were talking about their experiences on the way back to school very enthusiastically”.  She asked one child what his favourite part of the day had been and he replied: “I loved every bit of it!”.  Teachers have stated that they have been impressed with the quality of the experiences, the level of knowledge and passion of the staff and the activities overall, with each school say-ing that they would recommend the reserve to friends and family. 

However, we believe that education should be inclusive and open to all, not just primary schools, and environmental education sessions are held with adults with learning difficulties, who visit each week.  One group leader with a Kent County Council group from Walmer said: “all the adults benefit from just being at the re-serve in terms of their interest in nature, their mobility and wellbeing”.  Educational activities are held as often as possible, as well as sessions such as tree and bulb planting, bird watching and making bird boxes.  When I went to talk to the group about their experiences at the reserve, they were busy reading books on butterflies and excited to tell me about new birds of prey or plants they had learnt about.  The reserve acts as a safe, but also stimulating environment for them and “it makes [them] smile”, as they have developed genuine enjoy-ment of nature since coming here.  We also have weekly visits from individual adults with mental health issues, who have similarly said that the reserve makes them happy and improves their mental states.  These adults are more physically capable and volunteer at the reserve, carrying out tasks such as habitat maintenance and growth clearance. 

Monkton Nature Reserve believes that conservation and education are inextricably linked, and considering the social and environmental deprivation in Thanet, this becomes even more important.  Planning for the future, we are hoping to start conservation courses for adults on-site, with a special focus on local universities to train and inspire a new generation of conservationists. 

For more information about the reserve, click here.

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This article was first published in NAEE’s 2017  journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 116).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.