“My job is to get children and their parents interested in nature”

Meet Becky Ward, a Learning Officer with Gwent Wildlife Trust, who uses her passion for nature to encourage others to discover the joys and health benefits from engaging with the natural world

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Who are you and what do you do?
I am a Learning Officer for the Gwent Wildlife Trust based in Ebbw Vale.  I work with children and adults trying to enthuse and engage them in nature. I run activities at events and shows, I go into schools, school and community groups join me on green spaces and local nature reserves. I also work with adults running an annual beginners guide to dragonflies. In the summer months, I spend a lot of my time pond dipping and after all of my years of dipping, I am still fascinated by the life beneath the surface of water.
 
How did you get into your particular career?
I got a place at university and went on to complete a BSc in Environmental Studies. While in university I volunteered on a local river cleaning community project.  When I graduated, I got a part time job in a high street shop and approached the local wildlife trust for the opportunity to volunteer with them. I volunteered for 18 months gaining skills in practical conservation; hedge laying, fencing and dry stone walling. As much as I enjoyed working outside, I struggled with some of the physical tasks. I was asked if I wanted to support with an educational visit and soon became a volunteer field teacher, helping with school visits.  With my degree and the skills, knowledge and confidence I had gained with the Trust, I was successful in getting my first full time job with a company.
 
Why do you think it’s important to connect children with nature?
Research has shown that if a child hasn’t made a connection with nature by the age of 11, then they are unlikely to ever make a connection.  I personally believe that a connection in nature is important for so many reasons.  Our physical health can benefit from just 20 minutes of walking each day.  Many of us overlook the mental benefits of spending time outside, breathing in the air and taking in our surroundings giving us time out from life’s pressures .  For me, a connection with nature supports compassion and empathy.  The opportunities for a sensory awakening are endless.  Our children are the future and only with a connection to nature will they have an understanding and want to protect our natural world.    
 
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Funding will always be an issue.  The Wildlife Trust is a registered charity and my role is funded by the Big Lottery and this has given me security for the duration of the funding. Technology is progressing daily and amazing things happen instantly.  Amazing things happen in nature but we can miss it in an instance.  For example, it takes time to observe the lifecycle of a dragonfly (from 2 to 7 years). For me, that’s what makes natural observations so special but for many of us, we are short of time and are only looking for immediate action. Observing, learning and protecting nature and enabling others to share this is is vital to me but is not seen as a priority to everyone.
Many of us struggle with financial commitments in the current climate and as a charity we rely heavily on income from members. When money is tight a wildlife charity membership subscription is never going to be a priority.
 
And the biggest successes?
Every group I work with has a success story where at least one individual walks away with an ‘aah’ and a ‘wow’ experience.
I had my own ‘wow’ experience with my daughter last summer and a wow experience is a success for me  In our tiny town garden, we watched a dragonflies emerge from a water feature.  The larvae climbed up a juncus stem and a beautiful adult emerged from its exuvia and flew.  Four adults followed.
A family approached me at an event earlier this summer and told me how much they enjoyed nurture workshops i delivered at their child’s nursery.  I had reminder them how exciting and cheap things in nature are to do.
 

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What’s the best wildlife encounter you’ve had in the UK?
Any encounter with wildlife is amazing for me.  In the early 2000’s, I was fortunate enough to meet a very passionate individual.  I was given the opportunity to visit a badger sett.  The sett was visited by the gentleman daily and the badgers responded to his call.  Although probably not truly wild, it was definitely an amazing experience to watch 15 badgers in their natural environment.
More recently, I took my daughter on a boat trip off Skomer and we watched the last few puffins leave the island with a pod of porpoise swimming alongside the boat.  
Just today, I watched a pair of peregrines and a buzzard tussle and was transfixed until their activity dispersed.
 

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Where is your favourite place in the countryside to explore?
Living in Wales, I feel privileged.  I am surrounded by beautiful scenery.  I have been fortunate enough to stay in west wales on a number of occasions.  I love the coast both there and on the Gower.  I live in the Brecon Beacons on the edge of the Black Mountains and for me life doesn’t get any better than a gradual walking climb through woodlands to take me on to a mountainous ridge with views of spectacular scenery, colours and occasionally seeing a red kite or buzzard flying at eye level. The beauty in the industrial scarred landscape where i grew up, will always hold a place in my heart  I cannot name a specific countryside that I could call my favourite but I do love the rugged uplands.

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Becky Ward, Gwent Wildlife Trust