WWT researches kids and nature

Kids can explore nature at their leisure at the WWT's Wetland Centres. Photo: WWT.
Kids can explore nature at their leisure at the WWT's Wetland Centres. Photo: WWT.
Can a one-day school trip to a nature reserve lead to a lasting effect on children’s values and attitude towards nature? The WWT intends to find out with new research.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is pioneering research into the long-term effects on primary schoolchildren that visit their Wetland Centres. This may be the first time the subject has been explored in a long-term scientific way. The research is part of WWT’s Inspiring Generations scheme, which is funded by HSBC as part of their Water Programme.

The research will catch up with the children and teachers once they return to the classroom. Follow-up discussions and activities will examine any subtle changes over time. Did children remember the best bits of their day in a drawing or dairy entry, did they do anything at home as result of the trip such as put up a bird feeder, or where and how long did they play outdoors? all these incidents could indicate the attitudes towards nature that they are forming.

Pond-dipping on a school trip might encourage a deeper interest in nature as children grow up. Photo: WWT.

WWT researchers will compare the approaches taken by different schools on similar visits. These might show whether children are more inspired by things they are shown or those they find for themselves. The results will help children get the most personal benefit from a school trip and maximise the odds of sparking the interest of the 'David Attenboroughs' of tomorrow.
WWT Learning Manager, Lucy Hellier said: “This is a pioneering piece of research that could have implications for all school trips into the great outdoors. Over the years we’ve welcomed more than two million school kids to our Wetland Centres. We see them enjoy themselves and we dream that we’ve inspired each one.

“Other studies have asked adults why they became interested in nature. We’re coming at it from a different angle and speaking to children directly, to narrow down what it was about a single school trip that could turn it into a life-changing event. As far as we know, no one has ever tried this before.”

A central part of WWT’s ethos is the idea that immersing people in nature is the best way to encourage people to care about it and want to conserve it. This echoes the experience of WWT founder Peter Scott, whose love of nature was inspired by his father – Robert Falcon Scott aka 'Scott of the Antarctic' – whose final letter to Peter’s mother before he died read: “Make the boy interested in natural history if you can”.

Almost 2.5 million school children have been on a trip to a WWT Wetland Centre since the first opened in 1946. There are now eight Wetland Centres that welcome school visits throughout Britain, and WWT’s Inspiring Generations scheme helps schoolchildren in areas of high deprivation to visit for free.