Tag Archives: PKCT

New Year Resolutions?

The end of another year and it has been a challenging one in many parts of the world, not least with continuing war in Ukraine and the awful escalated Israel-Palestine conflict. At the same time the global threats to biodiversity and impending effects of climate change and seemingly weak response from world governments, don’t give much cause for optimism. We’ve also seen the power of ‘nature’ with flooding, landslides, powerful storms etc. – and there is stronger evidence to suggest these weather patterns are linked to human impacts on our planet (climate change especially).

Recently however, I have been heartened to see and be involved with the ‘Tree for Every Child’ initiative of the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust that I currently Chair. It was great to help plant trees at Glassie Farm above Aberfeldy. Glenlyon Primary school had already planted some trees. Then in December, I joined pupils from St Madoes Primary in planting fruit trees in their village. Hopefully these young people will see their trees grow over the years (and get free fruit).

In November, it was good to get a big ‘fix’ of optimism by working with the latest group of students on the Durrell Conservation Academy DESMAN course in Jersey. As usual it was a fun few days covering theory and practice of environmental/conservation education and learning about the work of these inspiring people. The group this time were from Bangladesh, Colombia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Oman, Philippines, Saudia Arabia, Singapore and UK.

Meanwhile, a new group of zookeepers and volunteer keepers began their work on the BIAZA – Sparsholt College DMZAA and CMZAAV online course and its great to be an assessor on year 1 once again.

So as Christmas comes and goes and we celebrate the arrival of 2024, what new resolutions should we have…. be happy, be positive, be optimistic and look forward to continuing to enjoy nature around us and celebrate those that are helping and making a difference.

Just one tree…

As the beautiful Autumn season arrives the felling of one tree – the Sycamore Gap at Hadrian’s Wall – filled news headlines and sparked anger, outrage and outcry. This senseless act should be a reminder that people are disconnected with nature and natural systems. At the same time many people care… but perhaps the sentimental affection for one tree is misplaced or needs some additional focus?

The Sycamore was ‘special’ because it stood alone as a feature of the landscape (possibly deliberately planted as such). There are many ‘special trees’. For me, and associated with the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust ‘Perthshire big tree country’, the ancient Birnham Oak is special (and incidentally has some ancient sycamores near by). However, it is not alone, it exists in woodland on the banks of the River Tay, and further along is Neil Gow’s oak revered as the place the 18th century fiddler composed and played.

A tree is a ‘unit’ of a woodland or forest, a habitat. The outcry should be levelled at destruction of these habitats for human development (roads, rail eg HS2, building development, monoculture etc). Connection to nature can be ’emotional’ and ‘spiritual’, at the same time there is need for a regard to ecology and what is appropriate planting and management. However, encouraging more people to enjoy and access the countryside responsibly, hopefully re-builds connection and support for trees and ‘added value’ they give us.

Our connection to nature can also be promoted and enhanced through well designed and carefully thought out ‘experiences’ in wildlife parks. At Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park near Ipswich there is a new ‘rare breeds farm’ area, through the native woodland – where some pigs can be seen – and to the fields (with rare breed pigs, goats, sheep, Suffolk punch horses, Highland cattle).

It was an honour to be asked to speak at the UK’s first KEEPERFEST event held at Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park in early September. The event included talks from Jim Doherty, Adam Henson, Nick Baker and a host of ‘industry experts’, as well as practical workshops and stands.

The event nicely complimented the work that ABWAK have been doing for many years in helping keepers to network and develop their skills.

Over the summer I also wrote a short-course on Environmental Education for learndirect and this is available for people to study online as a validated 3 module short-course: https://www.learndirect.com/course/level-3-award-environmental-educator

Changing Times & Challenges

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.

Acharn Falls, near Loch Tay, Kenmore, Perthshire, Scotland

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.

Dudley Zoo Education Centre, Charlie the macaw & inset – native species sign (bug hotel)

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/

Sparsholt College has some great ‘zoo’ teaching resources

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.

Optimism in the face of adversity?

The world has a virus. Normal life is suspended… but nature continues.

These are very difficult times for many people. The efforts to control the spread of covid-19 ‘locking-down’ communities and countries has meant physical isolation and separation, not just from each other but also from nature. In some respects, nature is pleased with this – the levels of air pollution are down, spring breeding is less disturbed etc.

ZooStephen, like most self-employed service providers has almost shut down with huge loss of business and income – hopefully temporary; I have been able to continue some remote/online activity. One of my favourite training events, teaching on the Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate (DESMAN) at the Durrell Academy in Jersey at the start of April was not possible. However, I was pleased to create a suite of online material, resources and video to enable the participants to undertake the ‘Education Theory & Practice’ module without my physical presence.

DESMAN 2020 Participants, Jersey

It was lovely to receive some feedback that even in this modified version, it was “amazing” “enjoyed” and a “favourite” part of the 12 week DESMAN course. The participants represent projects and activity from across the world including Madagascar, Indonesia, St Lucia and Brazil. Although I didn’t get to interact with them, I always feel more optimistic for the future of conservation when I work with these amazing people, who will make a real difference for nature, the environment and their communities in the years to come.

Back home, in Scotland, I am missing going out into the wider countryside and walking in the trees, mountains, coasts… at least I live in a semi-rural area and can enjoy the immediate surroundings of my village. It has in some ways been good to see local people also discovering the local environment for their occasional exercise – obviously maintaining social/physical distancing. Perhaps, once this crisis is abated there will be a new ‘normal’ and people will appreciate each other and the environment more.

Hermitage Waterfall, Big Tree Country near Dunkeld, Perthshire

At this time I am also really pleased to have just become a Trustee of the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust www.pkct.org . I hope to help encourage and promote engagement in the countryside across my home county, from Big Tree Country to the Cateran Trail and more. I am optimistic that in Scotland, we will value our environment more and improve our relationship to nature & recognise its importance for health and well being. I also hope we will be supportive of a more sustainable and ecological lifestyle – that may be a challenge, but this is a great opportunity to try.

At the Birnham Oak, at least 600 years old, the last remnant of the ancient forest featured by Shakespeare in ‘Macbeth’