Therese Alampo is the Reserve Manager at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve. In today’s blogpost she looks at the links being forged between National Nature Reserves and education.
Scotland’s National Nature Reserves (NNRs) are selected as the best examples of nature in Scotland. The first was Beinn Eighe, designated in 1951, and we now have almost 50 NNRs. These are scattered all around Scotland, and how lucky we are to have one so close to the towns and cities of Aberdeenshire and Angus for all to enjoy and experience.
NNR’s like St Cyrus are special places for nature. But they are also places for people. All have facilities to allow the public to enjoy, experience and learn why they are special. Many are also an educational resource, offer research opportunities, or show examples of specialised management.
All these uses can knit together in harmony with the common philosophy that we must all enjoy and protect the things that make St Cyrus so very special. A good example of that in the current year has come from local dog walkers who have behaved very responsibly by keeping dogs on their leads and respecting the sanctuary area to the south of the reserve where we have ground nesting birds.
The world has changed so much for the birds returning to breed at St Cyrus; some of which are returning from extremely far flung shores. The human population in Aberdeenshire and Angus has doubled in the past 40 years, and along with this there has been a huge growth in dog and cat ownership, habitat loss, intensification of farming, challenges from use of pesticides and a plethora of other obstacles.
Pressures on wildlife at times seems daunting, so thank you to our local dog walkers for ‘leading’ by example and protecting our ground nesting birds.
I think it was Nelson Mandela who said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
I’d like to thank all of the schools who use St Cyrus as an educational resource, particularly for having the drive and ambition to bring school groups on outdoor expeditions to this wonderful place. Last year we had a very impressive 50 school groups, and an additional 22 other educational groups, visiting the reserve.
It is never easy to single out individuals but I would like to say a special thanks to the inspirational local nursery school teacher Pamela Karner, her assistant Bev, and the volunteers and parents who bring the nursery children down to the reserve every two weeks. They regularly visit here come rain, shine, hail, snow, ice and everything in between.
Pamela approached SNH three years ago about the possibility of enhancing the outdoor learning already taking place at St Cyrus to incorporate a ‘forest school’ for the children. A brilliant and unusual concept, especially as we are a beach, dune and grassland reserve. We do however have a small area of self seeded alder ‘woodland’ behind the office on the old river bed. The trees are only small (about 10-12ft) but to a four year old I’d imagine these areas are ‘proper’ forests!
The programme we developed with Pamela gives great opportunities for learning about all the aspects of the Curriculum for Excellence. Pamela and her team have been doing some amazing things – things that it’s wonderful to see young children doing. For instance, they listen extremely carefully to the sounds on the reserve during silent walks and some of the children are only three! Then, they record their findings in imaginative ways. They also learn about numeracy through collecting sticks, grading them, sorting, matching, grouping, measuring and comparing.
The activities occur in the same place at very regular intervals, so that children experience the great depth of learning that can be found in the same space over time. The challenge and stimulation of being outdoors also has wider benefits for child development, and allows children and parents to develop positive attitudes to risk and natural environments too.
Pamela is an inspirational teacher and really values our National Nature Reserve here at St Cyrus. When we met recently she told me “I would like to express a big thank you to St Cyrus National Nature Reserve staff. Without their vibrant enthusiasm and support we just could not have started ‘Forest School’ at the reserve. They allowed and trusted the process. Everyone at our ‘Forest School’ takes this awareness, respect and care seriously. It is an arc of connections.”
As part of our work at Scottish Natural Heritage, we endeavour to educate about the connections between people, their environment, their local landscape, ecosystems and biodiversity. Issues like sustainability, values and attitudes arise and it’s very important that children grow up learning about these, as part of their education, in real life situations. It is part of our heritage.
For further information about this work see http://www.snh.gov.uk/about-scotlands-nature/resources-for-teaching/learning-outdoors/