Durrell’s Army and Academy Workshop

I was delighted to be involved in delivery of a conservation education short course and DESMAN at the wonderful Durrell Academy based at Durrell Wildlife Park in Jersey last weekend.

With participants from India, Brazil, Mauritius, Madagascar, Tanzania, Nigeria, Congo Republic, Seychelles, St. Lucia, and the UK, the course benefited enormously from the wealth of experiences and backgrounds each person brought with them and it made my job of facilitating learning and sharing of educational practice very enjoyable.
Utilising a mix of lecture with discussion, and diversity of activities from role play to storytelling, we covered a wealth of techniques and tips for educational engagement in a diversity of contexts and for a variety of audiences from children to adults.

The Durrell Academy and the Durrell Wildlife Hostel at Les Noyers, right next to the zoo, is a great facility and one that is world-leading, showing what a good zoo can do to make a real and lasting commitment to the conservation of species and habitats on a global scale. I was especially pleased to be ‘teaching’ here as I attended the opening of this centre back in 1984 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the zoo, and it’s so good to see how Gerald Durrell’s vision has come to life.les noyers

durrell academyWith the 12 week DESMAN – Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate – the participants achieve academic recognition, validated by the University of Kent. The course has a high reputation and it is brilliant that scholarships are available.

The wonderful participants are now part of the growing Durrell’s Army of conservationists – most of whom work in the field across the world.

I enjoyed returning on ‘pilgrimage’ again to the zoo, now known as Durrell Wildlife Park and seeing species such as Livingstone’s fruit bat, giant jumping rat, aye aye, Round Island skink, orang utan, and gorilla. It was great to see the wonderful ‘Gerald Durrell Story’ exhibition too which opened last year. I was also lucky to see the red-billed chough not only in the zoo but at the release site on the Jersey coast – part of a cooperative project to restore Jersey’s natural habitat. Conservation at home as well as globally.


durrell gorilla


Why are you interested in wildlife? Why do you support conservation?

Nature is an inspiration in itself. I remember being excited by wildlife from a very young age and being encouraged to explore and discover more. Whether that was playing with friends in the local woods, going on a walk in the countryside or visiting a zoo – all experiences that added to my enjoyment and love of nature.

myfamilybookHowever, there are, in everyone’s life, people who make a difference too. This week UK TV channel ITV launched a new series ‘The Durrells’ based on the books by Gerald Durrell and his early life on Corfu. Gerry was perhaps the most influential ‘famous person’ in my life. I began reading his books aged about 10 and soaked them up page by page, imagining and picturing the scenes. Whilst ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is a favourite, over the years I loved his animal collecting tales and zoo stories, and appearances on TV.  I consider myself very lucky to have met him and to have been ‘persuaded’ by a conversation with him, that working in zoos/conservation was something I could do. I hope that the new TV adaptation inspires and brings more people to his work and especially to the work of the Trust he established in Jersey and now called Durrell www.durrell.org


This weekend also saw the 82nd birthday of another very inspiring person, Dame Dr Jane Goodall whose work initially on chimpanzee behaviour has taught us all not only about these amazing animals but about ourselves. However, Jane’s contribution to science, whilst very significant, may be eclipsed by her humanity and recognition of the importance of people and education for survival of our planet, its wildlife and ourselves. This is epitomised by her roots and shoots initiative www.rootsandshoots.org.uk . I was delighted to meet Jane on a few occasions, perhaps the most significant being in Budongo Trail, the chimpanzee exhibit at RZSS Edinbugh Zoo which I helped to design the interpretation for – and in which we used some National Geographic clips of her work in Tanzania.IMG_2530

So, who will inspire the next generation? Gerald Durrell sadly died at the age of 70 in 1995, Jane Goodall is now 82, Sir David Attenborough is 90 this year… with the internet there are many more minor ‘stars’ and ‘celebrities’ influencing and communicating, and therefore there are many more opportunities … I hope that each of us inspires someone, and as an educator I am reminded of this quote from Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity, he never knows where his influence stops”