This is the time when NWT’s new seasonal engagement and education staff* start their busy roles, guiding and teaching visiting school parties on our nature reserves and running events to engage visitors and the public with Norfolk’s wildlife.
What do I say when I meet our new team? That you will be busy? Of course! That you are lucky to be working on some of the best nature reserves in the country: wonderful, special places like Cley Marshes, Hickling Broad, Holme Dunes and Ranworth. That you will see swallowtail butterflies (but not quite yet!), avocets, marsh harriers and lots of Norfolk’s iconic wildlife. I will tell them to look out for otters, as if you are lucky you will see one, but often when you least expect to.
But I will also say that you have one of the hardest jobs, because what we are asking you to achieve is to change people’s lives: to change the way people think and feel about nature. To encourage people to ‘do different’ as we say in Norfolk. To change how much people care about the natural world and change it enough that some of the people they meet will act to protect nature in new ways; whether doing more at home to help wildlife in their gardens, by joining us and supporting our work, by becoming a conservation volunteer, or perhaps by thinking more carefully about the impact of what they buy on the environment. Perhaps refilling a water bottle, rather than buying a single use plastic product. Changing people’s behaviour: now that’s a really tough job!
Our new seasonal staff’s role is to inspire people about our reserves and the wider natural world. And perhaps the best way to achieve this is by sharing and showing your own personal passion and love for nature. What inspires other people? Well, it’s often meeting someone who’s own enthusiasm, knowledge and love for their subject is infectious. So speak from your hearts as well as your heads.
Our team all need to be great story tellers about nature. There is nothing that engages like a great story. Stories can help people see nature in new ways: to show a child something familiar like a tree, a spider’s web, or a common earthworm, from such a different perspective that they will remember its story for the rest of their life. Now that’s a tough ask.
I hope they will enjoy their work so much that the families, children and groups that they meet can’t help but enjoy their experience of nature too. A miserable or grumpy guide just can’t cut it. So when it’s raining cats and dogs at Hickling, when a freezing cold north-east wind is blowing in off the sea at Cley, or when the wildlife has all mysteriously vanished on your guided walk you still need to be smiling. Not so easy!
What we are asking you to achieve is to change people’s lives: to change the way people think and feel about nature.
Sharing a love of nature is a privilege. But it can also be hard work and exhausting. The new team’s job is to be nature’s voice, to win hearts and minds and to inspire people with a love and fascination for wildlife. To demonstrate, in ways that people relate to, that we are all connected to nature and that nature is our life support system. I will say to them that the job you have to do is important. When you help a child experience wildlife on one of our nature reserves it can be the spark that starts a life-long interest in nature. The hardest job in the world? Maybe not. But it’s certainly a pretty big ask!
David North is Head of People and Wildlife at NWT
*Our new seasonal engagement officers are part of NWT’s People and Wildlife Team. They are managed by our Senior Education Officer, Annabel Hill, and over the next six months will be working with schools, running events for families and leading education activities across Norfolk. Look out for them at Cley Marshes, Holme Dunes, Hickling Broad and Ranworth Broad where they will be leading school parties and running family events over the coming months.