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EducationArticle compiled by Fiona Sunners, Community Ranger, Coast and Countryside Service
Most organisations now recognise the value of education and learning and strive to encourage a culture of lifelong learning, but why is it valuable? This depends upon your perspective, education for children is important to equip them with an understanding of their environment. Education for adults may be to enhance their enjoyment of the area but also facilitates a greater involvement with and understanding of management issues. Some individuals, such as those involved with the archaeology task group (pages 14/15) take this learning to the next level and research topics that contribute to our overall understanding of the coastal environment. This article is a joint effort and describes some of the work undertaken by Partners to further education on the coast, its background and some of their thoughts on the way forward.
What is education?
Education is an important factor here on the Sefton Coast. When we think of education we usually just think of school and college, but education continues throughout our lives. Every time we turn the television on or open a newspaper we learn something new. Along the coast we are constantly learning about the environment we work in, this provides a significant amount of knowledge that is available to everybody.
How and what information do you want?
There is much information about many different aspects of Sefton's open habitats. So what do you want to know and how would you like the information presenting? These are questions that we have to ask, as some data/information is only suitable for certain methods of presentation, as well as certain audiences. Most people with a general interest in the environment do not want to know the latin names of the tiniest mosses and liverworts that only occur in one place for two days a year. They are quite content with the common names of the plants and animals they see frequently on site. Some information is easy for people to accept and understand, but some issues are harder, for example the dynamic nature of the coast over a variety of timescales. It is often only after a large storm or high winds that any significant changes are noticeable, where the weather conditions accelerate the otherwise normally slow processes, making it easier for us to comprehend that the coastline is not a static environment, but a dynamic landscape. Some issues can be controversial and it is important that factual correct information is provided to a wide audience to enable them to develop an informed opinion.
Whilst we provide different information in many different formats - from leaflets, newsletters, web sites and press releases, to databases of records we should not forget that we are also available ourselves as sources of knowledge, passing on information and understanding, being out on site meeting members of the public as well as running guided walks, events, talks and slide shows.
Sometimes we have a captive audience - schools and colleges, which are relatively easy to pass information onto. Reaching the public on the other hand is not so easy, by communicating relevant information in an interesting and innovative way we hope to reach a wide audience. We also hope that you do some of the work for us. If you enjoy or find something interesting you will usually tell family or friends about it, without even realising it you are helping us pass information to a wider audience. Often if family are visiting from another part of the country you take them for a walk along the beach or through the woods - somewhere you enjoy or take pride in yourself. The right information can often makes all the difference in this case as to where you go.
We have many schools and colleges contacting us regarding field visits, from nursery children through the age ranges to degree students. Schools and colleges have been visiting the sand dunes for many, many years, back in 1990 the Sefton Coast Education Project was set up to co-ordinate all these visits. The project covered all the coastal sites managed by the National Trust, English Nature and Sefton Coast and Countryside Service. The national curriculum dictates what schools teach the children, science and geography both cover aspects of the environment, so a series of worksheets were developed by the project in line with curriculum outlines. The project offered the schools and colleges a complete service, from help planning field trips, provision of worksheets and wardens and rangers to lead the groups round site. Planning any school trip takes a lot of organisation, in particular the health and safety aspects, so the service helped with this - providing information on high tides and suitable routes and activities for different age ranges. In 1995 the project came to an end, however the visits continued with each organisation taking on the co-ordination for their own sites.
Sefton Coast and Countryside Service
Up until the end of the project, the service had just managed coastal sites, however Rimrose Valley Country Park came under our management soon after. Just like the coast, Rimrose Valley, including Brookvale LNR is an excellent site for field visits, it also has the advantage of being within walking distance of many schools - an important factor as the cost of hiring a coach can often put schools off making a trip. Having different habitats to the coast, existing activities and worksheets were adapted taking into account these differences. Classes can visit both coastal and countryside sites with activities including habitat investigations, strandline walks & beach hunts, River Alt studies, environmental games, arts and crafts. Whatever the activity, sometimes the children cannot control their excitement about being outdoors in these fantastic habitats - and it is often these experiences that mean more to the children than the activity. When the weather is less favourable a range of environmental activities can be undertaken in the Ainsdale Discovery centre.
Ainsdale Sand Dunes, as well as being the first nature reserve on the coast, had the first education programme. An education programme was piloted in the early 1960's when thousands of school children used the education trail in conjunction with a visit to Liverpool museum. There children saw a model of a transect through the dunes which helped explain how sand dune systems work. Now, with so much excellent education work happening elsewhere on the coast the National Nature Reserve is mainly used by undergraduates and graduates for research. The site has examples of best management in sand dunes and is also visited by sand dune managers from all over Europe.
Since 2000 there has been an annual programme of wildlife walks and talks on Ainsdale National Nature Reserve and the friendly, relaxed, atmosphere has ensured they are popular with many being over booked.
The joy of finding a black and yellow striped caterpillar belonging to the cinnabar moth almost overwhelmed Jake from Manchester. The attention to detail of his drawing, and the care with which he treated this living creature, was enough to convince any onlooker of the importance of environmental education.
In 2003 over 24,000 school children from as far as Manchester and beyond, took advantage of the Education services at the National Trust, Formby. Waiting to take them on a voyage of discovery were Education Guides and Volunteers trained to bring their studies alive. A wide range of options, spanning the National Curriculum and covering topics such as woodland and beach habitats, red squirrels, and coastlines, have proved yet again very popular with schools, many of whom return year after year. Careful evaluation of feedback from the participating schools enables the National Trust's staff and volunteers to operate at levels of the highest quality. In fact, the service is so popular that restrictions have been imposed on the numbers of children allowed on site because of conservation concerns. Schools are now beginning to realise that they need to book early to avoid disappointment. As there are no indoor study facilities on site, schools tend to book according to the weather, making May, June and July the busiest months.
The key post of Learning and Interpretation Officer is currently vacant. Sue Green, who has led the development of the National Trust's Education programme at Formby since it's inception in the mid 1990's, recently moved job to take on new challenges in environmental education and we wish her every success in her future ventures.