Following the success of the first Family Nature Club at ZSL London Zoo, Discovery and Learning Officer Ruth Desforges discusses the importance of connecting families with the wild spaces around them.
Having worked previously in a London nature reserve running outreach and engagement programmes, I love these spaces and the connection with nature that they can create in an urban environment.
On top of the ever-growing evidence that spending time outside in natural spaces has benefits for physical and mental health and wellbeing, I believe that time spent amongst nature helps make people more environmentally aware and can motivate them to get involved in conservation action. A personal connection to nature is key to individuals supporting conservation – and what better way to connect with nature than with the wild spaces on your own doorstep?
This was the ethos behind the Family Nature Club which we ran here at ZSL London Zoo in the Easter holidays this year. Two weeks of wildlife focused activities, run with families selected from the local area who had limited access to outside spaces, the club was the result of a generous Nature Connect Grant from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and was a great success.
From pond dipping and bug hunting to making bird feeders and toad abodes, the club’s activities gave participants the opportunity to learn skills as a family and become confident engaging together with wild spaces.
Here at the Zoo we have a host of nooks and corners between and around our animal enclosures that function as ‘wild’ spaces – many of which are actively managed by our horticulture team to maximise their biodiversity. These spaces often go overlooked by visitors, though they are as important for native wildlife as our care is for the more exotic species. It’s these spaces that I wanted to utilise when running the Family Nature Club – to show the participating families that usable outside spaces are all around them.
The club got rave reviews all round, with both parents and children enjoying the sense of freedom gained from being outdoors and the fact that exploring - and getting mucky - was the order of the day. The popularity of certain activities surprised even me, with all families getting fully involved in bird watching – the children seeing it as a challenging treasure hunt and parents feeling the satisfaction of being able to place a name to birds they see every day.
None of the equipment used for the course was particularly specialist – with everything from binoculars to pond dipping trays being available from most school suppliers – but getting families as a whole, not just students, engaging in activities together was particularly enriching. All families said that following the club they were going to spend more time in nature together, and many have.
"It's [an] amazing way to get your family to spend time together. Brilliant for children to learn about the local wildlife and the zoo animals" – Parent from ZSL’s Family Nature Club
The feedback from the Family Nature Club was fantastic, with the parents being inspired by the activities and wanting to repeat them in their own time, individuals leaving with a feeling that they wanted to do more to protect local wildlife and families enjoying spending time in the outdoors together. It’s definitely something I’d encourage other educators to consider, and something we will be looking to continue in the future.
Along with the Family Nature Club, the WAZA grant also funded the creation of a permanent outdoor learning space, pond dipping platform and native nature trail round the zoo for any visitors to enjoy – so come along and take a look for yourself!
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