Another year has passed and we look forward to the next. 2022 was one of many contrasts, from heat wave to big freeze, the passing of the Queen, and prime minister to prime minister (and again). Of course the dreadful invasion of Ukraine by Putin will scar the year’s memory.
Thankfully there were some good things in 2022 – some reported in previous blogs. I was very happy to return to Durrell Conservation Academy, Jersey, in November to work with a new group of Diploma in Endangered Species Management (DESMAN) students from around the world. Participants this time were from Brazil, Montserrat, St Lucia, Indonesia, Colombia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Seychelles, Philippines, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea.
The enthusiasm and commitment of these students is always great and we had fun exploring theory and practice of conservation education. The weather (for me) was good, some rain showers, but generally mild, whereas the DESMAN group said it was too cold 🙂 Back in their home countries they will make a difference in a wide diversity of projects and conservation initiatives.
In December I had the honour of becoming the Chair of the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust and was delighted to take part in a tree-planting with pupils from Kinloch Rannoch Primary School. The young trees (whips) donated by the Woodland Trust and also marking the celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee and now in her memory as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy, are part of our ‘Tree for Every Child in Perthshire‘ project. It was great to see the pupils enthusiasm as they all planted a tree in their local park. Great to think these trees will be there for their children to play around in years to come.
We are often faced with ‘negative’ and bad news stories, so the simple act of planting a tree is a positive conservation action that can make a difference, help in mitigation of climate change, encourage biodiversity and wildlife, as well as contribute to the community. Sowing wildflower meadows, having areas set aside in gardens etc are also to be encouraged.
With PKCT we are particularly focused upon people’s access and enjoyment of trees and the countryside, and Perthshire is a great area to get out and explore. I look forward to many days out and about across the county, the rest of Scotland and further afield in 2023.
Autumn has been stunning at home in Perthshire, Scotland and I have enjoyed seeing the trees and colours change as the weeks passed by through October especially. Being a Trustee of the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust (PKCT) I encourage others to experience and explore this wonderful region and enjoy the great outdoors (at any time of year).
It was good to help represent PKCT on the ‘stand’ at Scotland The Big Picture conference held in Perth, featuring many case studies of rewilding and connectedness to nature. Whilst we have some wonderful wild outdoor spaces, its also important to acknowledge the landscapes that are artificially maintained, eg grouse moors and river systems where trees have been ‘taken out’ and of course there is now a good open discussion about the animal species that need to be in our habitats – beavers are back, white-tailed eagles, kites and ospreys are back… but what about lynx? wolf? bear? and others.
Autumn is always a time of change in nature and the beauty we see soon fades into the grey and more monochrome winter to come. I’m reminded that this time last year I was in the United Arab Emirates – where these seasons have no bearing, and I am thankful to be resident here, to experience all the seasonal changes, whilst able to visit other places with different climate and conditions.
COP27 in Egypt brings world attention to climate change once more, after what for the UK was an incredibly hot summer and may be the hottest year on record. However, the challenge of climate change is one that politicians and some companies still don’t recognise as critical to our future requiring action day on day, not just when media focus on a gathering to discuss it .. again! Autumn may well be very different in one or two generations time unless action is taken now.
Talking of politics… what on earth is happening? The UK is going through prime ministers and ministers like its just a game and this is no entertaining ‘game of thrones’ for the rest of us, it has had serious economic impact. The change we are facing is not one we expected even after the disaster of Brexit and challenge of covid or impact of the war in Ukraine. Many people, businesses and zoos face crippling rises in bills whilst other multi-nationals profits soar. Capitalism is broken and in its current incarnation is not a model for freedom and democracy.
ZooStephen activity has been ongoing but facing challenges too. In the last few months I have been doing a bit ‘extra’ on my voluntary work as a Trustee with both PKCT and the Dudley & West Midlands Zoological Society. It is an honour and privilege to be able to support and help these charities in their work and share some of my knowledge and expertise from the past 35 years working in conservation education.
I was also honoured to be asked to do a guest blog for Wild Welfare with my thoughts on education. Primarily I focused on the fact ‘traditional’ fact-based learning is not the approach we need to improve welfare and conservation, its more about emotional engagement https://wildwelfare.org/education-animal-welfare/
Meanwhile a new group of Apprentice Zookeepers began their course with Sparsholt College and I spent a morning with them in early October giving them an overview of zoo history, aims and objectives to welcome them to the course and profession. I continue to act as an assessor on the national zookeeper course DMZAA, and particularly being assessor for the Certificate version created for volunteer zookeepers.
This is indeed a time of change and challenge. It is uncertain what 2023 and beyond will have in store.
Children today have a different outlook, expectations and lived experience than when I grew up through the 1960s and 70s. In some ways it was simpler – no mobile phones, computers or social media for a start, let alone just 3 TV channels – and even then not available 24 hours a day. However, I also remember the 70s oil crisis and ‘rationing’ of power, rise and fall of governments (although nothing like the political mess we have today), strikes and inflation.
It is too easy in a world of constant news and social media to dwell on the bad things, as much as they are of serious concern, thankfully nature is still all around us. Despite some serious issues with exploitation of natural resources, climate change and human population growth, children (and all of us) can still enjoy the wonder of a dandelion, a tree, wildflowers, a blackbird, frogspawn and much more.
Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park [JWFP], Ipswich, Suffolk, offers engagement with life from farm, local and international species as well as opportunity to consider our relationship with nature. Farming with rare breeds and traditional methods reconnects people to where their food comes from and how careful stewardship of the land supports future generations and continuation of nature.
Working with the team at JFWP we have created a new ‘Share the Good Life’ Discovery & Learning programme offering a diversity of workshops for all ages and abilities. Using the unique resources of the Park – primarily the animal collection and skilled team of staff – the programme enables groups to have a focused visit, supporting learning needs, but also encouraging enjoyment and experience of nature.
Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park also has daily talks and activities for visitors and it was wonderful to provide enhanced presentation and communication training for the team over a week spent at the Park. Being a farm park and wildlife centre means the range of species and stories for public engagement is diverse, from rare breed sheep and goats to butterflies and lemurs. The connection between all is inspiring and exciting people about nature and our relationship with life on earth.
On the other side of the world in Sumatra, Indonesia, an amazing new facility, Orangutan Haven, is nearing completion. The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme [SOCP] with partners Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari [YEL] and PanEco funding have created a fantastic home for a number of orangutans that cannot be returned to the wild due to the injuries and trauma they have suffered. See sumatranorangutan.org
Orangutan Haven provides a wonderful unique opportunity for public engagement and education and a window into the wider work of SOCP. The 48 hectare site in the forest but not far from the city of Medan, includes island habitats for the orangutans, some aviaries, an eco-farm and visitor facilities. I have helped them to create an education masterplan and supported the training and development of staff. The Haven will attract a diverse audience, but importantly this includes local rural and urban, subsistence and business, school and family, as well as some international visitors.
We talk a lot about behaviour change and conservation, especially in ‘western’ zoos’ programmes, and this is good but sometimes abstract. However, what makes the work of Orangutan Haven so exciting is that this is aiming to address things there ‘on the ground’ in the home habitat of the focus species with consideration to the actual needs and day to day lives of the local people and the big picture of forest conservation.
Back home in the UK, I was lucky to see the fledging of one of the osprey chicks at Loch of the Lowes this year and its been another great summer walking the hills, woods and coast. However, the summer has seen record temperatures and perhaps at last recognition that climate change is happening and could have serious implications. The risk of wild fires is high and made worse by the trend for disposable bbqs and at the same time, whilst its great people are getting out into the countryside, responsible use of and access to the outdoors is something people need reminding of or educating about.
As a Trustee of the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust it has been very encouraging to see our new Discovery, Learning and Engagement activities get underway after funding from the Gannochy Trust and support funds from Forteviot Trust. From youth engagement activity to a free nature discovery pop up in Perth.
It would be great if the wonder and enjoyment of nature as seen by a child can be nurtured and retained through teenage years and adulthood, building a positive relationship with the world around us.