Nikki Burton Mallott

The remit of a conservation educator is to connect audiences with the natural world and encourage the uptake of positive environmental behaviors. At Knowsley Safari, we are looking to achieve this more broadly in our community.

Two approaches have been explored:

1. An integrated approach to nature, health and wellbeing

2. Framing conservation through the medium of art

The rationale is rooted in the concept that the conservation conversation should not take place in a vacuum: caring for our planet should not be a silo from the rest of modern life, but rather should be integrated as a habit, a standard and a social norm. As educators, it is especially important to recognize and understand that environmental messaging in its purest form will not engage everyone, and therefore using other hooks and techniques to reach audiences should be positively explored. This is particularly important for the zoological sector. We look to our colleagues in the museum world where they have already made their mark, Museums Association (2017)1 publishing an entire strategy for the integration of health and wider social value into its members’ programming. Zoological collections can and should have social impact and diversify beyond their conventional remit of conserving species. Knowsley Safari has developed programs with new approaches – the outcomes of which are outlined here.

An integrated approach to nature, health and wellbeing

Pelletier & Sharp (2008)2 in a review of effective behaviour change models suggested there to be more success when messages serve intrinsic goals, such as health and wellbeing, as opposed to extrinsic goals (e.g. saving money, comfort). The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also recognises the need for integration “ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand in hand with strategies which improve health and education… All whilst tackling climate change and working to promote our oceans and forests” (UN, 2015)3. Merging the conversations of health and the environment is therefore worth exploration.

Within the UK and in the Knowsley locality, poor mental and physical health are widespread. One in four people will experience a mental health problem (MIND, 2021)4 and 68% of adults are classed as overweight (Lifestyles Team and NHS Digital, 2020)5. The Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbating this health crisis.

Moreover, the impacts of nature on health (and personal development) are becoming more well documented. Barton & Pretty (2010)6 reviewed 10 studies on exercising in nature and found they all demonstrated participants had increased mood and self-esteem. White et al (2019)7 found that spending two hours a week in nature had positive effects on overall health and wellbeing and O’Brien & Murray (2007)8 demonstrated the multifaceted impact of forest school on children with benefits including improved confidence and social skills. Such evidence has led to a rise in the UK (and globally) of social prescribing: nonclinical treatments which take a more holistic approach to health (Ewbank, 2020)9. Instead of medication, patients are prescribed an exercise class or time in a botanical garden. There is, however, little involvement yet of the zoological sector in this arena despite the inclusion of sister venues such as parks, woodlands and beaches.

Move Like Me’

‘Move Like Me’ is a one-hour animal inspired physical education lesson. Sessions were available to book for a 4-week period during October 2019, for ages 5 to 11 at schools within 15 miles of the safari. 1926 children from 13 schools took part across 66 workshops.

The workshop was delivered in the school hall or outside, with no equipment and the children in their sports kit. Each session lasting around 45 minutes including a warm-up and cool down.

Guided by the educators, the children imitated different actions of animals including considering speed, use of body parts and style of movement. Scenarios were also created such as the sudden appearance of a predator and the need to escape to cover.

All teachers were provided with a feedback form at the end of the lesson. Comments were positive:

“The children loved it. Really good balance between exercising and knowledge of the animals.” Park View Academy

“The children have (since) been pretending to be animals in the playground.” St Leo’s Primary

Teacher survey responses showed that 89% of teachers strongly agreed with the statement “Do you think the sessions were good for the overall wellbeing of the children?’” and 61% strongly agreed they had had a positive effect on the children’s perception of exercise.

‘Art in the Park’

Working in collaboration with Kirkby Gallery, ‘Art in the Park’ saw a group of artists create work inspired by the animals, environment, and conservation outputs of the safari. Each artist then recorded their artistic journey. These were put together in a series of films for schools who could watch the creative process and too be inspired by the natural world.

Johanna Robinson is a local author who wrote two short stories and a poem based on the themes she took from the safari: Behind the Scenes and Refuge and Perspective. Patricia McDonald is a multi-disciplinary artist who produced prints of wolves, sea lions and giraffes.

Framing the creative process, educators from the safari also delivered virtual content to give context to the sessions exploring the biology, habitats and conservation status of the animals on which the artists focused.

Over 1800 school children viewed the sessions. Some of which also submitted their own artworks inspired by the sessions.

All teachers agreed or strongly agreed that:

· The children learnt about nature

· The children learnt about art

· The children had an insight into the art world not normally possible

· The children has an insight into the safari park not normally possible

Suggesting that the value and link to the art curriculum was as strong as to the science.


The results and feedback from both programmes indicated a positive start for the diversification of the safari’s education programming. 

The local reputation of Knowsley Safari combined with the novelty aspect contributed to both initiatives getting started.

A second ‘Move Like Me’ programme was launched in March 2020. The ‘Expedition Exercise’ version seeks to deepen participant knowledge of the effects of habitat loss along with the original objective of improving perception and enjoyment of exercise. This is currently paused due to Covid–19 but is expected to be restarted in November 2021. 

Knowsley Safari and Kirkby Gallery are in ongoing discussions about next steps, with an in-person exhibition of the art works produced from the project being explored.

To expand more widely, careful communication needs to be considered in order that the programmes do not jar with the reputation and core remit of the zoo and that we continue to demonstrate how nature is integral to each programme.

Our programmes do suggest though that it is beneficial for zoo educators to ‘think outside the box’ when programming. Re-framing our offering and broadening the horizons of our audiences gives us a stronger voice in the conservation conversation which, alongside evolving the remit of zoos, also strengthens the odds in favour of nature connectedness and a sustainable future.



1. Museums Association (2017). Museums Change Lives. London: Museums Association.

2. Pelletier, L. G. & Sharp, E. (2008). Persuasive communication and pro-environmental behaviours: how message tailoring and message framing can improve the integration of behaviours through self determined motivation. Canadian Physcology, 49 (3), 210-217

3. United Nations (2015). Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

4. MIND (2021). Mental Health Facts and Statistics.

5. Lifestyles Team and NHS Digital (2020). Health Survey for England. Surrey: NHS Digital.

6. Barton, J. & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and exercise for improving mental health?
A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science and Technology, 44 (10), 3947-3955

7. White, M. P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J., Wheeler, B. W., Hartig, T., Warber, S. L., Bone, A., Depledge, M. H. & Fleming, L.H. (2019). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports, 9, 7730

8. O’Brien, L. & Murray, R. (2007). Forest School and its impacts on young children: Case studies in Britain.

9. Ewbank, L. (2020). What is social prescribing? The Kings Fund.


Nikki Burton Mallott has 10 years’ experience in Conservation Education. Currently in post as Head of Learning and Discovery at Knowsley Safari near Liverpool. Nikki is Co-Vice Chair of the BIAZA CE committee and a community governor at 2 local primary schools and 1 local secondary. She holds qualifications from the University of Cambridge, Edinburgh and Liverpool.

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This article was first published in Summer 2021 in Vol 127 of the NAEE journal which is available free to members.

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