All posts by Stephen

Folly Farm Communication & Presentation Skills

“Exceptionally encouraging throughout. Thanks very much.”

“It was a good day, really enjoyed the course. I learnt a lot and have picked up new ways to talk to people.”

“Very much enjoyed the course and feel it was good equal listening and involvement. Learnt a lot and feel more confident in public speaking. Thank you.”

It was great to return to Folly Farm this week (after the ABWAK conference there in March) and this time to have a small group of staff on my communication and presentation skills workshop. Thanks to them for taking part and their excellent feedback. I enjoyed it too, and adapted some exercises to be Folly Farm specific and was impressed with the group exercise on doing a rhino talk. I look forward to visiting Folly Farm again and seeing staff in action!

Folly Farm, near Tenby, South Wales, is certainly developing and growing and has just won ‘Best day out in Wales’ – with 4 unique attractions in one – farm/barn, zoo, funfair & play.  A new entrance building and shop area in construction right now, plans for a holiday village and continued work on managing and developing the animal collection … so definitely a place to visit and keep an eye on. Thanks to Folly Farm for booking

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BIAZA Education & Presenters Conference

The 2016 BIAZA Education & Presenters conference was hosted by Blackpool Zoo, 10th-11th November. This was the 25th annual national zoo education conference I have attended (having only missed a few in my 30 years engagement), and also held in the 50th anniversary year of BIAZA. Over the years many of the attendees have changed, but its still good to meet old friends and make new ones. The strength of these meetings is the exchange and sharing of ideas and information among a community of educators from large and small collections – ‘zoos’, aquariums, safari parks, & bird gardens. The programme of speakers and workshops are also good CPD and training opportunities – I ran one of my workshops at last year’s meeting. This year there was also a focus on inclusivity which brought discussion and activity such as sign language; effective communication and voice training; special education needs and more. Once more the conference also proved that ‘education is fun’ and that “zoo educators” enjoy themselves (not least in social events too in downtown Blackpool) and we never tire of learning and developing, whilst being committed to promoting conservation and behaviour change.

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International Education Network & Sharing

The International Zoo Educators association ( holds is biennial conference in Argentina in October. This will be the first time IZE has met in South America, and means IZE will have met on all the continents (excl Antarctica of course).

I have been directly involved with IZE for 20 years, and for the past 4 years I have been the editor of the IZE Journal. The 2016 edition of the Journal has recently been published and mailed to all IZE members.


The zoo education network is a great community for sharing ideas and best practice and thanks to the assistance of regional representatives of IZE and individuals working in this area, this year’s journal is another support for the profession.

IZE Journal 52 features articles from across the world. (Contents page featured below). The printed copy is mailed globally, whilst past issues are made available to all on the IZE website.



Training and Development

Nearly 50 students at Sparsholt College in Hampshire took part in my communications and careers workshop yesterday. We had fun exploring different communication techniques from poetry and tongue twisters to imitating animals and body language.  And importantly we also looked at the specific communication issue of applying for jobs and undertaking an interview. What’s your story?

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The students were great and this was the culmination of a year of activity of preparing for the world of work (I had worked with them before on trips to Twycross and Dudley) and I was pleased to see their portfolios and evidence of training, learning and personal information that will assist them in recruitment situations. Many of these students are well prepared and hopefully have an ‘edge’ over others, and can communicate this, given the chance.

The training and development of staff is something that pays dividends in terms of effectiveness, achieving desired outcomes, motivation and organisational pride.  Through ABWAK and in my previous zoo roles, I’m very pleased to have supported a diversity of staff to enhance their skills and develop the opportunities available to them and the organisation they work for.

branson1It is however, disappointing that in many cases, the support for training is expressed and stated in policy but not followed through in terms of providing sufficient time and resources to enact. My training workshops are therefore provided cheaply to enable participation and engagement and motivation; likewise ABWAK workshops are designed to support keeper development at minimal cost and use the community’s shared expertise.

Zoos are very good at sharing ideas and experience, working together on animal programmes and exchanging animals for breeding etc. However, this philosophy is only partly found in the area of staff training and development. Sir Richard Branson’s quote hits at the heart of the issue – some organisations worry that training their staff to be even better will enable them to go elsewhere (true)… but if the organisation really values its staff and provides good reason and motivation, and some reward, then those staff will stay and support the organisation to continuously develop and improve.

The employment opportunity for the students is limited by the current practice of ‘replacing’ previous work activity with internships and volunteering, and the wages offered to paid roles has been kept low by many, knowing there is always someone that wants to take the job and work in the zoo… I hope that the zoo community will heed Richard Branson’s words and do what it can to retain and develop the talent and expertise that it has nurtured and is available to it. Who are the next team leaders? curators? head keepers? directors? – they could be right there now, waiting and willing to be trained and developed.

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.


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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


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 . 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”


Dudley Zoo enclosures – Student visit

Dudley Zoo was opened in 1937 around the ruins of the castle on the hill. It is of particular note for the original features and enclosures designed by the Tecton partnership and Berthold Lubetkin.




Lubetkin and Tecton created ‘modernist’ structures using pre-stressed reinforced concrete and in the 1930s this was revolutionary. Perhaps their most famous zoo structure is the ‘old’ penguin pool at London Zoo, but Dudley Zoo was designed with these structures throughout, and they made a real striking feature surrounding the ancient castle.

Not surprisingly Dudley Castle is a listed (protected) building of historic importance. However, the 12 Tecton structures that survive (the penguin pool was lost in 1979 due to dilapidation) are now listed Grade II or II* and have World Monument Fund status.  This means that as a zoo, Dudley has a significant additional asset and burden – buildings of great historic importance, but ones that have to be maintained alongside the zoo, even when the suitability for their original inhabitants is passed. It calls for lateral thinking and budgeting – ideal for students to study and review.

I was therefore delighted to work with a group of nearly 40 animal care students from Sparsholt College, Hampshire, on a visit to Dudley Zoo last week looking at enclosure design and contrasting Dudley to other zoos they had visited.

Dudley Zoo has done well in ‘adapting’ old Tecton structures and making them usable and suitable habitats for other species – largely by adding substrates; such as bark; and features such as climbing frames and plants. The rest of the site also has some cost effective enclosure designs using features of the hill and landscape, eg gelada baboons, otters, walk-through lemur wood.









The students were able to focus upon how the needs of animals, keepers and visitors are met through the different approaches and styles of enclosure, as well as appreciate the constraints and limitations listed buildings have upon a zoo, as well as experience this unique zoo, castle, bird of prey display and talks on sealions and penguins.

Dudley Zoo staff were very helpful answering questions, and the students also got to meet the zoo director. This visit enabled learning outcomes relating to assessing and evaluating enclosures; comparing and contrasting different zoos and understanding zoo design and development within constraints of site and budget.

Thanks to all involved for a good day at the zoo!


World Wildlife Day & World Book Day

Today is both World Wildlife Day and World Book Day. So it’s a great opportunity to connect the two. As a bibliophile I have an extensive library of natural history titles – the vast majority of which I have read, and my favourites get re-read and referred to frequently.

What do I recommend? Of course it depends who for and what the desired outcome is. An obvious choice is the various books accompanying TV programmes by David Attenborough, although more adult focused, so perhaps today’s children may respond more to ‘Deadly 60’ and such like by Steve Backshall. There are various titles for the very young and early readers, such as Rumble in the Jungle (Andrae & Wojtowycz).

My personal favourite for linking learning, reading and getting outdoors exploring nature and the environment is The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell. There was a TV programme with Gerry and his wife Lee as well – but of course this was in the early 1980s. Nick Baker did a revision some 20 years later, ‘The New Amateur Naturalist’, but I still prefer the original – and if I could gift one title to the next generation, then this would be it.