Marine education occurs in various ways at the North Wales Wildlife Trust. As well as our Living Seas Wales work, which aims to enthuse the public, as well as school and community groups about our marine wildlife, we have the “Our Wild Coast” project, which works more intensely with groups of young people across the area. Andy O’Callaghan is the Project Officer for Anglesey:
Not everyone learns best sitting in a classroom and listening to information being taught to them. Some people like doing activities, others are more visual and benefit from watching, rather than listening or doing. Educational centres across the world are starting to catch onto this, and are realising that if you employ a diverse array of activities inside and outside of the classroom, then young people learn at a greater rate.
This is where the Our Wild Coast project comes in. Over the last two years, we have been working with schools across Anglesey to deliver education in the outdoors; using nature, landscapes, and activities to engage young people with their local areas. From coasteering to marine species ID, beach bush craft to practical conservation work, young people from 11 – 25 years old have all gained incredible knowledge through the use of engaging activities in the outdoors.
The benefits of outdoor education are numerous. Older young people relish the opportunity to gain some practical experience in a field they want to work in one day, or find that volunteering in the great outdoors is what suits them best. Our younger participants love the opportunity to be able to ask questions about things they find, to be given the chance to have a bit of freedom and to meet new people and eventual friends on the project.
Don’t just take my word for it though! Our young people often come out with amazing quotes from group days out. When exploring some of the beaches on Anglesey, I asked one of the young people whether they had enjoyed the day, to which they replied “Yes! I loved everything!”. Another young person from a Girl Guide group even challenged a fear by climbing a mountain with us. Before the day, she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to do it, and after talking with me and staying close by, when we got to the top she was amazed she had done it and decided she would do it again in the future.
Getting into the outdoors and exploring new places puts young people in a very different position to what they are used to; sometimes even going to places they have never been, even though they are five minutes down the road. This opportunity has proven to benefit their education, as well. The group from Ysgol Syr Thomas in 2017 all went from set 3 in their school subjects to set 1 after taking part in the OWC project, solely because they started asking questions and critically thinking. Others have taken their volunteering hours, and earned themselves accreditation, most notably a John Muir award.
Education in the outdoors, particularly when focussed on the issues facing our local areas and our world today, sets young people up to make environmentally better choices in the future. Encouraging a generation of people not only sympathetic to global issues, but doing something to tackle it, is crucial to keeping our world a healthy one.
Living Seas Wales is the new marine project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the next 2.5 years and covers almost all the coast of Wales, by linking up with the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. The focus is to show people our coastal wildlife in a variety of ways, with the aim of encouraging them to take action.
This year, especially, we’ve seen the effects of Blue Planet II and found many people have been keen to learn and take part in helping deal with the marine litter issue. So that’s seen us carry out beach cleans (working with schools, the public and other organisations), doing talks and explaining Nurdles and single-use plastic free living every month this year so far, sometimes several times. The marine team as a whole aims to practice what it preaches, so we all went single-use plastic free in July and will continue this, to some degree, beyond. We’ve found that this has spurred a LOT of questions from many people we meet and has led to immediate decisions to reduce throw-away plastic by individuals, families and school groups, which has been wonderful to see.
We mentioned Blue Planet II and we don’t feel it’s a coincidence that, after being shown spectacular footage of marine wildlife and their ecology and then the issues, people have been moved to act. Our ethos at the North Wales Wildlife Trust’s Marine team comes from Jacques Cousteau himself (our boss Nia quotes him on occasion) who stated “People protect what they love”. To help people love our seas they need to be introduced to it and the amazing lives which are lived out in it. That is what we spend much of our time doing. Especially during the summers, as that’s when people mostly use our coasts.
This summer we’re heading out to various spots on our North Wales coasts to introduce people to our marine wildlife in a variety of ways, using technology, collecting memories of marine wildlife and encouraging people to join us exploring the coast. We’ll be taking our Marine Roadshow to two places on Anglesey – Amlwch on Thursday the 23rd (next to Copper Kingdom visitor centre on the port) and Holyhead on Sunday the 26th August (we’ll be next to the Maritime Museum at the harbour). We hope to see you there to learn, be inspired or recollect with us.
Written by Dawn Thomas and Andy O’Callaghan of the North Wales Wildlife Trust.