WWT Martin Mere launches free school visits

WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre today launches Generation Wild - an ambitious initiative helping 9000 local children from less advantaged communities in the North West to make long term and meaningful connections with nature, through storytelling and adventure.

The ground-breaking project, created in partnership with theatrical producers, puppeteers, and schools, will invite local primary school children in economically deprived areas* for a free visit to seven WWT Wetland Centres across the UK, including Martin Mere. On the visit they will take part in an immersive experience and meet ‘Ava’, an extraordinary creature who is part girl and part bird.

Charlotte Levene, Generation Wild Project Manager said of the scheme: “We know that when children connect with the outdoors and nature, it improves their physical and mental wellbeing and behaviour, yet research shows that 75% of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates.[1]

Chris Whitehead, Learning Manager adds: “Just as importantly, if children don’t experience nature, they won’t come to love it and if they don’t love it, they won’t take action to protect it – Generation Wild aims to inspire the next generation of conservationists.”

The children first meet Ava in a digital storybook in the classroom and then in ‘real life’ at Martin Mere as they stumble across an enormous nest and are introduced to her in a live, interactive puppet show. The children are then given a ‘translatorphone’, where Ava’s animal friends guide them through a nature trail, revealing her incredible backstory and helping her on a journey back to the wild.

Every pupil will be given a voucher for a free, return visit to WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre with their family to continue Ava’s journey. Meanwhile, back in the classroom or at home, children, teachers and family members can continue to follow Ava’s journey via an interactive website.

Chris continues; “We’re particularly aware that children from disadvantaged communities have even fewer opportunities to interact with nature and often feel like nature isn’t for them. Through Generation Wild, we are keen to remove some of those barriers by making the natural world more accessible, familiar and fun, while instilling the belief that nature is for everyone over the long term.”

The children will be encouraged to complete activities in school, at home and in the local area, in the hope of becoming a ‘Guardian of the Wild’ – the idea being that the children and families continue engaging with the natural world beyond the classroom and their initial visits.

Class teacher Cath Pinkney[PR1] , whose school was one of the first groups to experience Generation Wild said, “I’ve been a teacher for ten years and this was the most interactive and informative trip I’ve ever been on - the children and adults alike were engaged the whole way through.”

She continued: “The resources linked perfectly with our science objectives and the children were fully absorbed in Ava’s transformation and loved meeting her in the nest. The children are already planning some of the activities and that level of engagement is rare.”

Children from the school echoed Cath’s enthusiasm; with pupil Josie Mathew-Penty, saying: “It was the best trip I’ve ever had - I’ve already completed some of the activities and can’t wait to get my Guardian of the Wild badge in assembly.”

Another pupil, Paramveer Singh-Kapoora added: ”I couldn’t believe it when we saw Ava in the nest - we only just learnt about her the day before, and there she was,” while his classmate, Eltigani Hassoun, added: “I’m going back at the weekend – my mum says we can go again because we’ve learnt so much.”

The project will also be the subject of new PhD research, between Cardiff University and WWT, examining how engagement with nature and wetlands in particular, can enhance children’s wellbeing and influence their views about the natural world.

Dr. Kersty Hobson from Cardiff University, who is part of the academic team overseeing the research explained ’We are really excited to be collaborating with WWT and Martin Mere on this ground-breaking piece of work that will give us a deeper understanding of the best ways to engage children and instil a life-long love of nature, particularly amongst communities that often don't have regular access to nature experiences'

Generation Wild has been funded through an anonymous charitable foundation with additional funding provided by the ScottishPower Foundation Melanie Hill, Executive Officer and Trustee at the ScottishPower Foundation, said: “We are passionate about supporting environmental causes which make a positive difference to communities and help young people achieve their full potential. Generation Wild does all of this in an innovative, interesting and engaging way and we are so proud to be part of this.”

*Eligibility is based on the percentage of pupils receiving free school meals, ensuring that the project reaches those most in need