Educating communities in environment’s importance is key

You can all help with our conservation aims by simply visiting Edinburgh Zoo and/or Highland Wildlife Park. Picture: Jane Barlow
You can all help with our conservation aims by simply visiting Edinburgh Zoo and/or Highland Wildlife Park. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Key to learning about nature is a sense of fun, says Leigh Morris

I am delighted to have been appointed to the post of director of community Conservation for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), an exciting new position which stems from the organisational vision of stimulating more conservation through community engagement.

Our ambition is to educate more people about the wonder of our natural world and inspire and empower them to do something, however large or small, to sustain and protect it.

Having started my career started in horticulture – moving into wider land-based education and management before spending the last ten years leading on learning activities at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – I have worked on a number of global conservation projects linked to education and I already see the massive potential to connect with, and inspire, a great many more people about nature and its conservation.

The potential for community engagement is tremendously exciting and ultimately I want us to motivate more people to care about our natural world and act accordingly. To do this we need to show communities that conservation matters, to educate people so they can individually make a difference, enable them to do that, establish a long-term commitment to the environment and – most importantly – make it fun!

We have a team of wonderful volunteers helping at Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park and we would encourage even more people to join us and to look at ways we can involve some of them in our outreach work.

We want to inspire more young people to participate and it would be fantastic to expand and develop our existing Edinburgh Zoo Club to help achieve this. I’m also personally keen to engage more with youth organisations, including the Beavers, Cubs, Brownies, Scouts, Guides, Young Leaders and Brigades.

Eco-tourism offers another exciting possibility to immerse individuals in Scottish projects and in our conservation partnerships overseas.

We intend to develop a series of adult, further and higher education programmes on a variety of conservation-related topics to teach the relevant skills and knowledge.

Our intention is to make these widely available, through the use of different venues, as well as an on-line learning platform to facilitate distance and blended – part distance, part face-to-face – learning options.

We are also keen to look at increasing our use of other forms of technology for engagement, including social media and, for those of you who Tweet, I invite you to engage more with our conservation and education work using the hashtag #RZSS, which enables you to be part of the conversation around our work.

A fantastic example of a community conservation initiative that has just been launched by RZSS is our Wild About Scotland Bus. A partnership with Clydesdale Bank, it uses a double-decker bus which has been fully converted to provide a unique and inspiring educational space.

It is visiting schools around the country delivering fun through practical lessons that fully compliment the National Curriculum – and we also plan for it to go to beyond the classroom.

If you’d like to know when the bus will be in your region, or request it to visit your school or event, contact us at www.rzss.org.uk/wildaboutscotland

Conservation must be sustainable. RZSS is a charity and it is fundamental that we operate efficiently in terms of finances and managing our conservation priorities.

You can all help with our conservation aims by simply visiting Edinburgh Zoo and/or Highland Wildlife Park, becoming a member of RZSS, or joining one of our education courses.

The Clydesdale Bank partnership and our on-going partnership with Jaguar Landrover in relation to pandas and our work in China are fantastic examples of the benefits of working closely with corporate sponsors. In my new role I aim to build on these collaborations to deliver and engage more widely.

I believe animals (and of course plants) are an excellent and exciting way to connect people of all ages and backgrounds to nature, and the sheer joy and excitement I see in visitors’ faces affirms that!

I look forward to the years ahead…

• Leigh Morris is director of community conservation at The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland @MorrisLeigh

www.rzss.org.uk