Guest Blog – Guests at Nature’s Table by Findlay Wilde

findlayMy name is Findlay Wilde, you might remember me from the last guest blog I did for Mark about my concerns for the future of our fabulous, but endangered, wildlife and habitats. And now I am back to write my second blog. A lot has changed in a year and I have now started High School. I am more experienced, realistic, grown-up and more ready for what things I am going to face and what we together will face in the future of conservation.




At this year’s Bird Fair, I was listening to a conversation between my dad and Mr Avery. Mark was saying about how we couldn’t get all the staff members of NGOs into schools as there just aren’t enough of them to go round; but that got me thinking, what happens if we could and there was a way. So I decided to do a bit of a school survey and at the same time find out how many volunteers some of the most known NGOs have.

NGO Volunteer Numbers

To find out how many volunteers the NGOs have, I looked at their websites and annual reports:

RSPB                                       15,700

BTO                                         40,000

WWT                                      800

Plantlife                                 1,000

Butterfly Conservation        15,000

Woodland Trust                   1,500

Wildlife Trust                        30,000

Bat Conservation                  2,000

Natural England                    2,000

National Trust                       70,000


Primary School Survey

There are about 26,000 primary schools in the UK. I decided to survey the 260 primary schools in Cheshire. I emailed the schools four simple questions and 30% of the schools replied, here are the questions and the results:

Question 1

Have you ever been approached by an NGO (Non Government Organisation) such asRSPB, British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, Buglife, National Trust, Woodland Trust, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust or a similar group wanting to talk and present to the children in your school. If yes, please say which organisation it was.

78% of the schools surveyed have had no contact with an NGO.

The breakdown of the 22% was as follows: RSPB 4%, Wildlife Trusts 4%, Woodland Trust 2% and a variety of other organisations made up the remaining 12%.

Question 2

Has your school ever approached one of the NGOs mentioned in Question 1 and asked them to present or run a workshop for your children? If yes, which organisation and did they do it.

76% of the schools had not approached an NGO.

The breakdown of the 24% was as follows: RSPB 2%, Wildlife Trusts 8%, Woodland Trust 4% and other 10%.

Question 3

Would you welcome one of these NGOs presenting to or running a workshop with your children?
Although most schools said that they would welcome a visit from an NGO, quite a few also mentioned that it would depend on the cost and how it tied in to the school’s curriculum. Here is something that one of the schools said:

The sad fact of the matter is that we have become quite obsessed with ensuring that we cover all of the curriculum that the government asks us to and that we raise standards in Maths and English as Ofsted constantly requires us to,  when I was at primary school some 40 years ago, nature work was far more common than it seems to be in schools today.

Question 4

Do you think it’s important that children engage with nature?
No need for a graph this time, 100% of the schools agreed that it is important for children to engage with nature. Here is a quote from one of the schools surveyed:

Absolutely, they are the future custodians of our planet. Education must be the key to future conservation and increased environmental awareness. Children tend to listen to experts with less scepticism than when it is presented by a teacher however passionately they do so.


Making Sense of the Numbers

•    So it is clear the schools want help, and they all agree it is important for kids to engage with nature.
•    At the moment there doesn’t seem to be many schools and NGOs working together.
•    The amount of volunteers from just the 10 NGOs mentioned before is all together 178,000.
•    There are about 26,000 primary schools in the UK.

Can you see where I’m going with this? How about if even just a quarter of all NGO volunteers spent some of their volunteer time with their local primary school? Maybe an “adopt a school” scheme where the volunteer regularly visits the same school. Maybe the NGOs could put together a structured lesson plan that the volunteers could use. Think of the difference this could make, to have someone truly passionate about wildlife and nature opening children’s eyes to its wonders. I understand now that you can’t teach people to feel the passion I have for nature, but you can teach them the next best thing, respect.

We don’t own nature, we are all just guests at natures table, and as guests it’s about time we all learn some manners, starting with respect.


Why Target Primary Schools

I am sure all of you adult wildlife lovers reading this blog will have gotten into some kind of conservation in your life, and that your interest was probably sparked during your very early school years. I myself started off engaging with nature in those years with the help of both my passion and other people’s knowledge.

Think of me as a river, I started off (in my primary school years) as a tiny little stream, but then I slowly started to widen with knowledge, but then as I carried on my downstream journey I came to these massive bends. People guided me and helped me find my way round these twists and turns as I carried on downstream; but suddenly as I start at High School I see the path for myself.  I am growing, learning and getting more and more interested in wildlife and I am creating my own river path that will one day meet the sea, but meet it my way.


The Future My Way

When I eventually get older I want our world to be a friendly and eco world; not just with a single forest that is a protected area. I want the world to be a protected area; I want bird numbers to rise, basically I want the whole world to be a home for wildlife again; I want all the people and groups that think the same to work together, which one day might make my dream come true.

So come on NGOs, come on schools, come on volunteers; let’s make this happen together.


31 Replies to “Guest Blog – Guests at Nature’s Table by Findlay Wilde”

  1. Great job Findlay! My 7-year old daughter is at Primary School in Thetford and I guess they are lucky to have a NGO on their doorstep. I’ve been in to do one school assembly on garden birds, and I’ve another planned for the New Year when I’m going to talk about some of the results from the Bird Atlas and to talk about writing (to tie into their theme of ‘Raleigh Writers’). My daughters class has walked down to BTO where we’ve had some nature studies around the garden and the whole school has been over to RSPB Lakenheath Fen, where they are really geared up for school children, with staff and plenty of activities on hand. I enjoyed that visit too! The children have really enjoyed these visits, and for some it’s pretty clear that they don’t spend much time out in the countryside. It was a whole new world to them.

    I agree it’s pretty easy to go in and do a school assembly on garden birds or migration as there are so many amazing stories to tell and the children will be really interested. Having said that, I was probably more nervous talking to a bunch of 4–7 year olds than to a room full of adults! I’ll have a word with my colleagues with children at school for starters to encourage them to go into school and give an assembly. It’s the least we can do.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Great blog Findlay – I love your idea of us being guests at nature’s table and needing to learn some manners – fantastic!

  3. Firstly, how can anyone dislike this blog??? beats me! What a great idea Findlay and I hope it is taken on board by the NGO’s and seen through into the primary schools. I tried when my daughters, were at primary school to influence the school to visit the Derby Peregrine Watch and visit RSPB reserves but to no avail. As you have already discovered pressure from Ofsted and the desire to achieve good Sats results is the driving force behind head teachers achievements and ultimately their position in school as head. I’m afraid parents and governing bodies are influenced too much by Sats results and until this changes learning about nature is always going to be an additional luxury topic, unless you have a teacher who is particularily interested in it. As for secondary schools Findlay, there seems to be even less interest in the topic, wouldn’t you say?
    Good luck with achieving your ambitions in meeting the sea.

  4. Just a couple of comments from my days as Director of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. In those times we received lots of requests from schools. My solution was to buy a farm with excellent buildings and set up an education centre so schools could visit us. The farm has meadows, woods, ponds and is home to the SWT sheep flock. There is an indoor classroom and teaching staff available.

    This meant that thousands of children visited us here and at other centres both in school time and at special weekend events. This work still goes on today. NGO’s usually have far to few staff and volunteers to visit every school but the system I describe gets kids out into nature with peoople who know what to show them.

    Recently I have been so chuffed to meet two professionals in nature conservation who as children visited the wonderful Foxburrow Farm in Suffolk and they insisted those experiences shaped their careers. So it worked for them!

    NGO’s can buy all the land they want but that alone will not change people’s minds on nature. we need to inform the young early in their lives and they will do the rest. It always amazes me how many grandparents and parents became SWT volunteers and members because their kids had been to one of our educational days.

    Keep up the crusade Findlay!

  5. Great blog Finn – like the river metaphore, very clever!

    Don’t forget though there’s other people out there providing this sort of service to schools,= some are even private companies as well as the NGOs. So some of your 78% in Q1 may have had a great experience from someone else. Statistics eh – don’t you just love em!

  6. Fabulous stuff Findlay, and straight from the horse’s mouth – young people (and schools) want enthused and knowledgeable folk working at every level in conservation to come and engage with them. Brilliant. Thanks for sharing such a well-written and thoughtful blog with us.

    Sometimes, sad to say, local politics get in the way of this desired engagement. Birders, believe it or not, can be incredibly good at squabbling and fighting amongst themselves. We should all be on the same side, but it seems often we’re not… When I was on the committee of our local (and rather well-known) bird club I suggested we invest some of our annual income in engaging with local schools, helping to fund bird-feeding stations and wildlife gardens in the school grounds as well as talking with the pupils about our local birds and wildlife and exploring local and wider environmental issues.

    Sad to say a majority of the committee didn’t want to do that, and the general consensus was that a bird club shouldn’t get involved in local stuff like that, and existed primarily for the benefit of it’s members (not birds then?!) – the most important thing was collating bird data and publishing the annual bird report. And that was that.

    It was a shame, as I could have helped the bird club bring in external match-funding to really make a big, positive impact with the schools. But local bird-club-politics won the day, and nothing happened. (Apart from my resigning shortly afterwards in disgust at the committee’s collective pettiness, and unwillingness to embrace some active local conservation with schools).

    Hopefully local NGOs elsewhere in the UK like the wildlife trusts etc won’t have similar behind-the-scenes politics. But don’t be too surprised if they do! There are more snakes in the grass than mere Grass Snakes…

    1. The trouble is that all of those NGO volunteers (and all of the bird club members) are not a great untapped resource. Most of them are already using their volunteering time to do valuable volunteering, often on top of full time jobs and other commitments. Many of them may not really be “volunteers” at all but simply birdwatchers and other wildlife-watchers who use BirdTrack and other recording schemes. On top of that, going into schools requires a particular kind of skill and commitment. It’s not easy and I’m not sure that funding helps. The people that can do it, are probably already doing it!

      1. Fair point Helen, though in the case of my example a number of the bird club members represent some rather prominent and well-qualified professional ornithologists who can always find the time to twitch the latest rare bird to turn up in our county recording area. And indeed, they also have previous professional experience of interacting with the public, so should be capable of engaging, um, engagingly with some eager youngsters!

        Re funding – it was my intention to spend that on, primarily, the planting of wildlife gardens and small areas of seed-rich cover crop that would prove attractive to breeding and migrating passerines. But also to engage with each school’s teaching staff to see how else our funding contribution (and that of external match-funders) could be used to enhance the curriculum where it engaged with biodiversity and conservation issues.

        Forgive me for altering your final point somewhat: here, the people that can do it, are probably too busy birding and pursuing petty vendettas to bother with doing it!

    2. “Sad to say a majority of the committee didn’t want to do that, and the general consensus was that a bird club shouldn’t get involved in local stuff like that, and existed primarily for the benefit of it’s members (not birds then?!)”

      Even if the view of the committee was that the club only exists for its members it was still a short-sighted decision not to attempt to engage school children as, presumably, the club would wish to assure its own survival by recruiting new young members to replace those older members who become inactive and eventually die. A small investment of time and effort might have fired up the enthusiasm of a few more Findlays who could help to ensure that in future, not only were there members to collect the records and collate the annual bird report but more importantly that there were still some birds to record and report on!

  7. I’ve been following the progress of this young man for some time now. He never ceases to amaze me with his dedication to wildlife, quest for knowledge, astute observations – and initiative! This last post from Findlay is truly inspirational.

    Hopefully Findlay’s message will be widely disseminated and people will act accordingly. My only uncertainty is about about the practicalities of implementing such practices, purely on the basis of all the rules and regulations surrounding non-accredited teaching staff working (not working?) with school children. I understand that these regulations are quite restrictive, but do not have any details. I’d appreciate it if someone would comment on this as I, for one, would like to get involved in the manner that Findlay suggests.

    Keep up the good work, Findlay. You’re an inspiration to us all!

    1. Hi Richard,

      As part of a recent Somerset Wildlife Trust project, I worked with the pupils of a couple of local schools to grow on rare plants for reintroduction on to a local nature reserve while learning about pollination (which fits with the National Curriculum for Key Stage 2(?)).

      My understanding of the situation was that there wasn’t a problem with me planning and leading sessions, despite not being security checked etc, as long as the teaching staff were in attendance. I don’t think the security check regulations are quite as draconian as they seem from the outside.

      Best, Mark

      PS the pupils (and I) loved every minute of it!

  8. Really great blog Findlay,everything you say is right.I suspect the problem is that the volunteers and others may feel that they are perhaps not as competent as the schools would expect.
    I used to belong to a agricultural discussion group and we used to ask a wide range of people who had interesting topics to speak to us and they would always more or less do it free and we would invite them for a nice meal at the year end.
    I think that if schools took the initiative and contacted any of the groups you have figures for the schools would get someone to talk at that school free.
    Am greatly impressed by your research on this.

  9. Thank you everyone for your comments and thoughts. I am still certain that in all the thousands of volunteers, there are people with the passion needed to talk about our amazing planet. You don’t have to be an complete expert to speak to primary school children, but you do need to believe in what you are talking about as children will pick up on this enthusiasm; I know for a fact it would of made a difference to my time at Primary School. From Findlay

  10. Hats off to you Findley, really interesting blog and very impressed with the research done.I work in a fee paying school (not teaching)and would say there was no more engaging with nature and wildlife than any state school. Curriculam restraints do dictate timetables, especially when good exam results are being paid for! As a parent and now joyfully a grannie the push for change has to be on all fronts, parents,schools,NGO’s and more importantly inspired young people like you!

  11. This is an excellent and important blog, Findlay. Many thanks.

    One point you make that I think is absolutely key is trying to get people going regularly into schools and getting pupils carrying out activities on more than a one-off basis. There is good evidence that getting people to take part in environmental activities repeatedly has a much greater long-term effect on their attitudes towards nature.

    I would also add another potential source of volunteers who should be going into schools and inspiring young people: university students on environmental courses. I estimate (very roughly) that there are about 10,000 undergraduate students in the UK studying topics concerned with environmental conservation. If we could train and mobilise them to carry out educational activities in schools they would get some great practical experience and training while providing a lot of free education.

    Keep up the good work.

    Best, Mark

  12. Excellent blog Findley great to see such thoughtful comments. Always share your thoughts with your teachers you may find they may even act on them!

  13. Excellent blog. Last year, I was a volunteer for the RSPB’s bird friendly schools project in selected parts of Glasgow. The schools were selected based on those council wards who had missed out during the previous BFS project a couple of years earlier. Much was made of the fact that the RSPB secured funding from Glasgow City Council, and sadly, the project isn’t continuing this year, to my knowledge. My concern is that a behemoth like the RSPB isn’t capable of funding these projects on their own and being pro- active. The project was 100% positive for the schools and myself, and its a crying shame that this potential is being wasted.

  14. Findlay
    Great piece, I’d add one more NGO to the list. The Conservation Volunteers. Offices vary but the two Centres in Leeds have a lot of contact with schools. One is an Environmental Education Centre, the other undertakes a lot of practical work in school grounds creating wildlife and food growing areas.

    Schools have many pressures and anything that can be done to get nature and the environment more central to the curriculum has to be good.

  15. Findlay,do not get disheartened people like yourself and Mark eventually have a impact.My guess is you admire Mark very much and he is a great example of tenacity and repeatedly trying to get the result he wants also in a strange way perhaps because of your age people greatly admire what you are trying to achieve.Keep up the good work.

    1. Dennis – thanks for making that comment. I’m not sure that Findlay admires me, although he did once tell me that I was ‘quite funny’ – but I certainly admire him! Thanks again.

  16. The demise of the ‘nature table’ – sometimes called ‘show and tell’ – in schools is something I feel sad about. Objects like a badger’s skull, a fossil or a goldfinch’s nest are great at engaging children and stimulating their interest.
    Of course the main thing that would make a real difference is having more teachers with a passion for wildlife. I know a few and they do sterling work directly with their classes, by bringing outside ‘experts’ in and by making their school grounds more wildlife friendly. Given the pressures teachers are under these days, they deserve a medal!

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