Friday, 30 March 2012

A cockroach and a flint

Here is the second of two guest editorials I wrote for RSWT's Link magazine during my two years as its editor, published in March 2012.

Last Words from outgoing Link editor Nick Acheson: 

From the start of my contract as editor of Link, it was destined to be a short-term job. The Wildlife Trusts had, very wisely, stipulated that they wanted editors to change regularly, to ensure a flow of new ideas and new enthusiasm. So, after almost two years, here’s my last edition. When I applied for the job, and was privileged to be given it, I had no idea what a game-changer it would become for me or how much it would enhance my understanding of environmental education in the UK and elsewhere.

I’m handing on the job in no doubt that the UK has a vibrant, talented and world-leading community of environmental educators. I know because, through working on Link, I’ve heard from you, spoken to you, pestered you for articles, and been met with nothing in return but enthusiasm, ideas, fresh angles, and encouragement. It’s an expression that’s over-used but I find myself in awe of the education folks who work in Wildlife Trusts around the UK. In just two years I’ve heard from people who work with primary school children, people who work with university students, people who work with disaffected young adults, people who run Watch groups, people who work with adults with mental health problems, and people who work with just about anyone who comes along. All of you are united by a common belief: a belief that nature matters for her own sake but that, beyond this, human lives are richer for letting nature in.

I was in Madagascar recently, leading a wildlife-watching holiday. Among the many mind-crunchingly fascinating creatures we encountered was a Madagascar hissing cockroach. Quite apart from the fact that this otherwise unprepossessing critter rejoices in the scientific name Gromphadorhina portentosa, it is for me a portal straight to my first experience of environmental education. At some point in the late seventies, a biology teacher from the local school came to visit the tiny pre-school I attended. With him he brought – I remember it as clearly as though it were this morning – a giant millipede, a Madagascar hissing cockroach and a stuffed platypus. I was rapt, astonished that grown-ups could devote their lives to knowing about these precious creatures, and in that moment a naturalist was born. A small boy and a cockroach. It’s all it takes.

I am writing this in the harsh handshake of midwinter (what possessed me to come back from Madagascar?), thinking of the UK’s valiant environmental educators struggling to keep young fingers warm and young minds interested, despite the brutal cold. I have been there many times myself. But above my desk, on the windowsill, I have a reminder of what these days of cold fingers are for. It’s a flint, round and grey and perfectly indistinguishable from the millions of other flints which litter our Norfolk beaches. But this is a flint that was given to me by a child. An inner London school visits Norfolk Wildlife Trust each year in icy March and, at the end of the first such visit on which I worked, a boy of Asian heritage, who had never before been to a beach, held out the stone to me saying: It’s for you. Thanks. And in that moment it was no longer a stone. It was a reminder of all we can do and why we do it.

Humble though Link is, those of us who work on it hope that it has at times been, and will in the future be, a reminder of all we can do in environmental education and why we do it. It’s for you. Thanks.

Reproduced with permission from RSWT.

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