The joys of outreach – a final reflection

I’ve recently finished my Wild Learning internship and having had a few weeks to reflect upon my last 6 or so months at the Trust, I wanted to share a little of my experience.

It goes without saying I have wholeheartedly enjoyed this internship and it has definitely confirmed my instinct that outdoor wildlife education work is something I want to pursue.

I’ve had a really varied experience, from running beach schools on the Suffolk Coast, to a range of Ipswich learning experiences, including young wardens groups with teenagers and family days during school holidays.  I’ve helped with a handful of school visits but the bulk of our work in Ipswich has been outreach events in the park; which has been different and challenging every day. I’ve run a weekly Wild Tots group for the majority of the internship with our Wild Learning Officer Lucy, and had some wonderful feedback from the parents which has been a real boost. Everyone has wished me well and I’ve even been offered some casual work with the Trust in the Spring, which is fantastic.

The highlights are too many to list but here’s a few:

  • My first day in Ipswich, helping our Wild Learning Officer Lucy battle the April showers and lead a group of the public in planting a wildflower meadow in one of our parks. Lucy’s determination and enthusiasm for her work has been a joy to behold. We’ve has a blast this summer!
Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Kirsty Wilmot and Lucy Shepherd

  • Processing through the town at night in a hedgehog-themed lantern parade, which delighted the public and was a real adventure for the children, including my son and daughter. Around 150 people and their lanterns lit up Holywells Park and the waterfront, to celebrate the end of the Ipswich Hedgehog Project. It was lovely to see our Hedgehog Officer Ali sharing her passion with people too.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust
  • Presenting a copy of “The Lost Words” book to Aldeburgh School, engaging the children with some of our treasured nature words which are disappearing from the dictionary. I loved the look on the face of the girl who stood up in assembly to accept the book on behalf of the school,  when she discovered her name, Bluebell, was in it. I’ve been inspired by the Trust’s campaign to get this book into every school in Suffolk to help all children connect with nature in the classroom.
  • Celebrating World Ocean’s Day on Felixstowe Beach, talking with the public about one of my passions – plastic pollution – and finding and identifying all sorts of seaweed and shells. Watching our Learning Development Officer Bev talk to the TV cameras about the campaign was hugely inspiring, and I felt proud to be part of it.
  • Delivering workshops at Folk East Festival and meeting a huge number of people, all mad about wildlife. From the 11-year-old shark-enthusiast to the 60-year-old retired trawler fisherman who wanted to give something back.  I signed up my first member that weekend which was a real bonus.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust
  • Being an animal detective with children in Ipswich Museum at the “Ask the Expert” event, helping them identify mammal skulls (and poo!), and dissecting owl pellets. My studies focused on insects and their habitats, particularly butterflies, so it has been great for me to learn more about mammals and birds. Leading a group of year 7-9s around our mammal tunnels during a school visit was another opportunity to learn more about animal tracks and signs, which I’ve found fascinating.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust
  • Leading the Ipswich Wildlife Watch Group for the first time in over 5 years (which I ran as a volunteer in the past). It’s heartening to see how much the group has grown and flourished over the years.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust
  • Lastly, and perhaps a less obvious one, a work team meeting! Who wouldn’t want to work in an organisation which inspires you with talks on national wildlife campaigns and the latest research on nature connectedness, before taking you hunting for million-year-old shells at the local nature reserve (fuelled by homemade chocolate brownies)? What a brilliant team to be a part of!

In terms of personal development, I have been fortunate enough to complete my Level 3 Wild Beach Leader training during my internship, which has allowed me to lead the majority of a 6 week series of beach schools for Hollesley Primary School. This has been fantastic in terms of getting experience working with a school, and planning a varied programme for their children. We enjoyed survival challenges, shingle plant surveys, invertebrate hunts, beachcombing for seashore finds, and lots of lovely marine-themed games. I’ve really loved seeing the potential of beach schools to supply the same therapeutic environment for children that forest schools are so well known for, and am looking forward to spending more time on the beach with my own children.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust

I have also started on my journey to becoming a Forest School Leader, which began with a free Level One course provided by the Trust at Bradfield Woods. I enjoyed it so much I decided to invest in myself and enrol for the Level 3 course, which I’ve now started and am really enjoying. The Trust has been brilliant in supporting me in this, which will include helping me to organise a pilot with a school to allow me to qualify.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Overall I’ve just loved the outreach experience, where we’ve battled weather in all forms, along with a constant stream of different dogs, people and wildlife visitors! I’ve laughed a lot at what outreach work throws up; from a random trumpet player on the beach serenading me as I set up my beach school, to the arrival of a Danny Boyle Film crew, to the trials and tribulations strapping a mud kitchen to my car roof! As we move into autumn I’m still volunteering with the Trust and loving watching the seasons change. As one of many interns in the Trust I have felt personally valued and included in so much of what goes on – much more so than I expected.  I would encourage anyone considering this as a career to dive straight in and grab the opportunity with both hands!

Thanks again for reading, and I hope to see some of you out and about in Ipswich parks at some of our events in the future.