Tag Archives: Communication

DURRELL’S ARMY & JIMMY’S FARM

After a couple of years (due to covid issues) it was a pleasure to return to Jersey and the Durrell Conservation Academy and teach in person on the Spring 2022 DESMAN course.

Spring 2022 DESMAN participants having fun in the ‘Discovery Centre’

I am always inspired and enthused by the wonderful participants on this 12 week diploma course and it is an honour to work with them, and teach for a few days at the Academy that I saw opened by HRH Princess Royal with Gerry & Lee Durrell, as the International Training Centre in 1984. This year the group comprised participants from: Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Monserrat, Nigeria & Scotland and for some of the time joined by a couple of Jersey Zoo education staff too.

“Learning by doing” is largely the approach I take (although lecture is part of the delivery), and the students all engage well – for some they get pushed out of their comfort zone but building confidence in new areas.

The garden at the Academy provides a great place for outdoor learning when the weather is nice 🙂
Acting as a means of communication / meeting a cockroach 🙂

The DESMAN graduates have significant impact in the field in their careers and are part of ‘Durrell’s Army’ enacting conservation and saving endangered species and places. My workshop is designed to help them develop their communication skills and recognise the value of education as a conservation tool with a variety of audiences. A lot of examples are packed into a few days, including looking at public engagement in Jersey Zoo and case studies from around the world. My aim is to inspire, excite and enthuse through active education, enabling them to apply ideas in their own practice in future.

Saddleback pig – created from the few surviving Essex & Wessex saddleback pigs in 1960s

Not long after being in Jersey I headed to Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park near Ipswich. The park is a working farm with rare breeds as well as having a growing wildlife park featuring a diversity of species. Rare Breeds of farm animals represent the ‘traditional’ stock and as the name suggests are ‘rare’ – largely because commercial farming has concentrated upon a few core varieties. Jimmy’s has a wonderful restaurant serving quality ‘home grown’ free range meat and promoting sustainable agriculture and good welfare.

Jim Doherty bought the derelict farm in 2002 and this featured in a BBC TV documentary and he has done various TV programmes since. The wildlife park aspects began in 2016 and now the site is attracting around 200,000 visitors a year!

The excellent staff team at Jimmy’s provide a great visitor experience and I’m pleased to be helping them redevelop their educational activities – talks for the public and a new school’s (formal education) programme.

Being a farm and wildlife park presents great opportunities for engaging a diverse audience – and of course there is a big appeal to young children. However, the expanding wildlife park (includes tapir, macaque, camel, lemur, & zebra) and wonderful woodland area, provide potential with the farm for a meaningful consideration of our relationship to nature both local and global.

I look forward to returning to Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park soon to support staff training and review the strategy and programme I have worked on for them.

Giving A Presentation :)

After 35 years working in conservation education I still enjoy giving presentations and helping others with techniques to improve theirs. In the modern age of Tik-Tok, Instagram and YouTube many have greater skills and effectiveness than me in those media. However, the face to face and “real” presentation is still a very important aspect of sharing our work and especially engaging with visitors.

It was an honour to be the first speaker on day 2 of the 2022 ABWAK Symposium attended by over 200 people and held at West Midlands Safari Park in early March. My talk “Arabian Giraffes and Indonesian Ambassadors” was an opportunity to share the great work of Sharjah Safari and Orangutan Haven whilst discussing the importance of public engagement and education in zoos.

Keepers are increasingly involved in direct visitor engagement and ‘education’ activity. I was therefore delighted to be asked back to Longleat Safari Park to run ‘Presentation and Communication Training’ for small groups of keepers and safari tour guides. Many of the staff there interact with guests on site, give talks and tours and of course some are ‘famous’ through appearances on ‘Animal Park’ on TV.

I was pleased to work with some who had been at Longleat several years as well as those who joined in the past 12 months. Through a day of activities and information, participants are encouraged to understand what the desired outcomes are and ways that they can enhance their communication skills to be most effective. I particularly enjoy using a diversity of techniques from acting to tongue twisters and it usually gets a smile or two from participants. The philosophy of learning by doing is central to the approach, and it is known that ‘doing something’ is more memorable and likely to have impact.

Seeing animals for real is core to the zoo and aquarium experience. Our exposure to TV and media may bring wildlife stories to our living rooms but this is largely passive. However, the zoo visit can also be passive, and so needs to have focused opportunities and interaction. The role of all staff, from the entrance to the shop, is important in contributing to the message and story. Keepers are a critical part of the experience and our visitors look to them for information and engagement.

The professionalisation of keepers in the UK and Ireland has been promoted by ABWAK throughout its 48 year history and it’s good to see that public engagement is now considered core to many keeper jobs. There are various routes into the profession, and a variety of courses and qualifications. For many years I have been involved in the Diploma in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals (DMZAA) and its volunteer-keeper version CMZAAV, run by Sparsholt College for BIAZA. In the ‘modern’ (and covid) world we can effectively utilise online systems to support learning, so it was good to be guest speaker on a webinar for DMZAA / CMZAAV students, giving them background on zoos and education and pointers on successful assignments.

Giving a presentation is and should be something we enjoy and in so doing we can contribute to sharing our passion, enthusiasm and excitement for wildlife, nature, wild places and conservation.

Real People, Real Engagement… and more to come

July saw my first face to face engagements for over a year!

ZooStephen Communication and Presentation Skills workshop was run at Woburn Safari Park in July for members of staff from different departments that had joined since April 2021. This full day workshop was designed to give a range of background to zoos, practical communication skills and consideration of customer care issues.

The group were great and we enjoyed activities from story-telling to tongue-twisters and most importantly the day helped build confidence in speaking to others. Covid restrictions had just been lifted in England, however, we maintained comfortable social distancing and optional mask wearing in the session. It was so much better than via online systems and great to properly interact and react to the group’s needs.

Being invited to be the keynote speaker, and run a workshop, at the first UK Animal Care Technician’s conference was the other highlight of July. This had been delayed for a year, so UKACT2020 became UKACT2021 and thanks to the hard work of Joe Cooke and team at Halesowen College, West Midlands, and the attendees from all over the UK, it was a great success.

It was wonderful to be able to speak on ‘education and collaboration’ to a room full of people, to react and receive reaction. My workshop on demonstration and presentation skills was to give a flavour of how technicians can better be prepared for and to support student learning and activities. With good weather we were also able to enjoy lunch outside and spend time looking at the animal collection at the college.

Animal Care Technicians in colleges are responsible for a diversity of animals, whose main role is to assist the training and development of those who wish to pursue a career in animal care. The animal collections in some colleges are licensed zoos, and species kept range from rabbits and goats to iguanas and lemurs. There are also good collections of invertebrates and some aquatics.

Zookeepers have had ABWAK (Association of British and Wild Animal Keepers) to help their networking, training and development, for nearly 50 years, UKACT is providing a great network, using a facebook group and now this first, day long, conference for the animal care technicians.

Fingers crossed with the roll out of vaccines and appropriate mitigation the worst of the Covid situation is over. However, I am mindful of the disparity in vaccine provision across the world. However, I am very pleased to have just taken on two international projects, more will be shared in due course – these are with the Environment & Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; and with Orangutan Haven (SOCP and YEL) in Medan, Indonesia.

Doing a DESMAN – Durrell 2019

Conservation depends on people to succeed in the long term. Some of the people that can make a real difference are the attendees of the Durrell Endangered Species Management course [DESMAN] at the Durrell Academy, Jersey.

It was an honour and privilege to be invited to Jersey again this year to run my workshop on Conservation Education Principles and Practice for the 2019 DESMAN students.

The participants came from across the globe: Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Indonesia (Sumatra), Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Rodrigues, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, St.Lucia, & Tanzania; and were a great group to work with. Full of energy, enthusiasm and willingness to learn and engage.

Conservation education is FUN and is also fundamental to our understanding of nature and for enabling real connection and action for conservation. There are global, regional, national and local issues and contexts to consider, and so its great when participants can reflect upon what works/will be appropriate for their own setting and context. Whilst it is also great to be able to conduct my workshop in English for all these nationalities – although some aspects don’t require verbal language to understand 🙂

The ‘acting’ skills of the group were used to good effect in non-verbal communication exercises. It was also good to look at how Durrell currently communicate to their visitors at Jersey Zoo and for the students to examine and evaluate this. For example, the public talks and education service.

looking at “education resources” and teaching methods

Communicating conservation, engaging with all audiences, and instilling a wonder and enjoyment of nature all contribute to successful conservation activity the world over, and I was delighted with the feedback from the group, and hope they will make a difference in their future work.

The teaching method was very good, I appreciate it and it inspired me a lot.”
“… your way of teaching involving small activities is really good and I can use some of those activities with school children visiting my place of work back home”
“This is the most enjoyable and memorable workshop ever”


Confidence and Fun

“When you have confidence you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun you can do amazing things.” (Joe Namath, former American football star and actor).

I enjoy communicating and I have great fun when I teach and help others to develop skills for presentations and talks. It is especially satisfying when you can help those who believe they can’t do it or are really not confident to do it. Sometimes it is about ‘pushing’ and almost ‘forcing’ but the context and environment needs to be supportive and understanding. So it was a pleasure, at the end of June, to engage with a diverse group of keepers and the education team at Drayton Manor Zoo in a workshop to support their engagement with visitors.

Some of the group were very confident and “up for it”, whereas others were clearly uncomfortable and not keen because of lack of confidence and experience. However, step one achieved – they were there. Step two engagement and activities for a few hours. Step three – as part of a group giving a presentation to each other – success! Next steps are to practice, work with colleagues, and engage with visitors.

My presentation and communication workshop is adapted to suit each group and situation and so it was great to have a really positive response from the Drayton Manor Zoo staff no matter what their initial feeling or experience, and that confidence was built and will develop further within the team.

The zoo is at an exciting time in its history and has long term development plans, which are great to hear about. And of course, with the added attraction of the theme park and ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ the potential for public engagement with a diverse audience within the zoo at Drayton Manor is significant.

 

Following my day at Drayton Manor it was a pleasure to return to Longleat where I conducted similar training over a year ago. I returned to visit the park but primarily to attend the ABWAK Symposium.  The staff team at Longleat were brilliant and their confidence in both visitor and conference delegate engagement was superb. Here is another collection that has very large visitor numbers and a diverse visitor experience. The ‘safari’ and ‘animal adventure’ have come a long way in the park’s 50 years+ and its very exciting to see the latest news that Longleat is to house a couple of wombats and 6 southern koala, from Cleland Wildlife Park in South Australia, in a new facility (opening in 2019).

Drayton Manor and Longleat are very different but both ‘zoos’ to watch and to visit, and both have very large audiences from diverse backgrounds, thereby having potential to take conservation and conservation education to the masses – and to have fun too!

Skills Development – ZooStephen Workshop

Communication and Presentation Skills training sessions are fun, and its great meeting new people.

Thanks to Dudley Zoo for hosting the event, I was able to run a day long workshop for educators/presenters from a diversity of collections: DZG, West Midlands Safari Park, Green Dragon Eco Farm, WWT Slimbridge, Cotswold Falconry, Knowsley Safari, WILD and BTO (ex welsh mtn).

The existing knowledge, skills and experience of the group was mixed, and the workshop covered some of the background theory, conservation messaging ideas and discussion, and a diversity of activities, designed to support greater confidence and understanding in doing presentations and providing ‘education’.  We used non-verbal communciation alongside ‘acting’ techniques and finished the day with light-hearted group talks on flamingos and pandas.

The feedback from participants was great – with some good thoughts regarding both the amount of content and development of individual skills. Thanks to all involved for engaging and having FUN whilst developing and enhancing skills and experience.

This workshop was provided at very low cost to the organisations involved as part of my commitment to supporting staff development in educational activity.  I will be running future sessions for more educators/presenters and for keepers in future.

Inspiration & Optimism – DESMAN 2018

There is hope for the future. Conservation is often depicted as a battle and struggle, full of responding to ‘bad news’ and events – which undoubtedly it is. However, we should also be optimistic and celebrate the good news and success stories too. No conservation project, no matter how well conceived, planned and intentioned, will fully succeed unless it has the support of the people. Thankfully there are some amazing, inspiring and dedicated people around the world, working to conserve, protect and develop our understanding of nature. Some of these people are the participants in the Durrell Conservation Academy DESMAN course.

It was an honour and privilege to be invited to speak and lead a few days workshops for the DESMAN in Jersey once again; the third year I have done this. My education and communication ‘course’ was well received and I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with this year’s students who came from: Armenia, Brazil, Canada, China (Hong Kong), India, Nigeria, Samoa, St. Lucia, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, & UAE.

Whilst, I was able to inspire and enthuse the participants and demonstrate a diversity of communication and education techniques, I was also inspired and enthused by them too. It’s always good to meet people who are committed to, are doing and will do, great work and to be a small part of their development and conservation activity. Their feedback was also very much appreciated, with some great comments, such as:
“thank you for making it so fun, informative and inspiring”; “I got many new experiences about new techniques of education and awareness programmes – very useful”; and “inspired me to do more in the field of conservation education and community conservation”.

It was of course also great to return to Jersey Zoo, HQ of Durrell and enjoy time in the Zoo – not least the brilliant bat flight enclosure – which in itself has a great community and recycling story in its construction.  We also enjoyed reviewing and critiquing the education for visitors, by observing talks, signs and discussing education programmes. One of the great aspects of the DESMAN is that the diversity of participants may have specific field projects and focus, but they get to understand endangered species management in general and the multi-faceted approach needed for conservation to succeed – including through education and communication.

I am optimistic that this year’s DESMAN participants, along with previous students, WILL go MAD and Make A Difference!

Thanks to Durrell Conservation Academy and to the participants and staff. (Links on social media twitter: @ZooStephen and featured on @Durrell_Academy and on facebook.)

Conservation Education & Communication – Training at Durrell

The Durrell Conservation Academy in Jersey has been involved in the training of hundreds of conservationists from around the world and its flagship programme is the Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate – DESMAN. It was an honour to be asked to run the Conservation Education training aspect of this year’s course.

The participants this year were from Rwanda, Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, St. Lucia, Borneo, Indonesia, Brazil, China & UK, and their four month residential course is validated by DICE, University of Kent. So it was great to play a small part in the delivery and development of the participants learning & engagement in conservation.

For the few days I was at Durrell, I created a workshop on Conservation Education Theory & Practice, covering aspects of learning theory and lots of practical activity in communication and presentation skills. The students were great to work with, and it is a privilege to have met them and been involved in their development, and I was delighted to read their feedback, for example:

“It is very interesting session; the funny way you do the education is good. I think that it helps a lot to share examples of education in conservation. Personally I have got many tips from the sessions and many things to apply back home.”

“Great enthusiasm, some great ideas; kept us interested. Gave me new skills. Very relevant to my career. Useful contact to have”.

For conservation to succeed it is essential that the people and communities around conservation projects are fully engaged and informed; and its not always easy, so we covered using different techniques for different audiences and building the students confidence in this area.  I look forward to hearing of their work in the field in years to come.

 

Challenging Communication – Training @Longleat

Spare a thought for those members of staff in zoos, aquariums and visitor attractions that are tasked with communicating with visitors. It’s not as easy as you may think.

I was delighted to work with the excellent staff team at Longleat, Wiltshire, mid January 2017, in two one day workshops developing their skills in presentation and communication.  Longleat is an amazing place – not only the UK’s first safari park (opened 1966) but also has a walk around animal adventure area, lake and boat safari, play areas, train, the maze, and of course Longleat House and estate.

As an illustration of the challenge faced by the ‘educator/ keeper/presenter’, we looked at the Longleat Jungle Cruise – which is a short boat excursion on the lake, featuring Californian sea lions (an opportunity to feed), African hippo, gorilla islands and native wildlife. The presenter not only tries to talk about all the species, some conservation concerns, and other aspects of Longleat, but also do the safety announcements and oversee the sea lion feeding with the passengers who want to do it (small charge).

As part of my workshop, in small groups, the participants looked at what the objectives should be for the cruise, using the ‘Learn, Feel, Do’ model and enacted the experience – with considerable humour.

Sometimes, its good to recognise that you can’t say it all, and visitors aren’t going to listen to it all anyway. So the challenge is to make the ‘talk’ and associated activities FUN and set realistic objectives to achieve, not least of which is to inspire and excite visitors with the natural world and encourage them to find out more and get engaged in activity to support long term conservation.

The workshop included diverse activities and presentation of ideas and background and I thank the team at Longleat for their very positive feedback, for example:
Really good day, enjoyed the practical part a lot. Thank you.
Very informative and inspirational.
Very informative. Gave me more confidence to do talks. Thank you.
Excellent workshop. Well prepared and researched. A range of examples with numerous ideas out of the box, inspiring a different way of thinking. USP is enthusiasm + passion.