Since joining Wessex Rivers Trust mid-March as Education Officer for the Watercress and Winterbournes Landscape Partnership scheme, the time has flown by. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, my role is to encourage children and young people to connect with the headwater chalk streams of the Test and Itchen rivers, engaging with both the freshwater life and the cultural heritage that has shaped the area.
Since March I’ve been busy getting to grips with new systems and ways of working, conducting site visits and exploring the project area, promoting the education programme to schools and groups and eagerly running my first activities onsite.
After teaching environmental education for over 14 years in country park and nature reserve settings, it would be fair to say I fell into this career by accident. Encouraged to spend a year in employment before finishing my final year at university, a wise move given I didn’t at the time know what I wanted to do next, I spent the last seven months as an Assistant Recreation Ranger for East Dorset District Council. Whilst that time was generally spent leading guided walks and cycle rides around the local area (and combining these with a visit to the local tearoom or pub!), being based at a country park invariably meant mucking in with anything and everything and it was here I discovered you could have a career based around environmental education and my newfound love for the freshwater life found lurking in the pond. After graduating I returned to Moors Valley Country Park to assist with their varied education and events programme and whilst there I also ran a three year lottery funded countryside play project on the District Council’s outlying sites.
I then swapped river dipping in the River Stour at Sturminster Marshall and the Crane and Moors rivers which run through the country park for the Dockens Water, a New Forest stream which runs through Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve before flowing into the River Avon. Joining Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust enabled me to build upon previous experiences, running Wildlife Tots sessions for pre-school age children, leading habitat-based school visits and wildlife themed holiday events, and running Young Naturalists sessions for teenagers, organising overnight camps on the reserve and taking them away on weekend residentials.
Whilst my teaching experience is varied, providing children and young people with the opportunity to experience rivers firsthand has always been hugely important, from kick sampling for fish and other river invertebrates to National Curriculum linked river studies fieldwork to more play themed activities such as coracle making (and testing!), rush boat making and weaving willow fish.
All this experience has led me to where I am today, and I’m excited to be able to focus on my enthusiasm for freshwater life, inspiring children, young people and their communities to discover more about the wildlife and cultural heritage associated with the crystal-clear headwaters of the Test and Itchen rivers whilst highlighting the environmental issues impacting their future.