Devon's Nature Ambassadors, Ten Years of Wildwise
Chris Salisbury celebrates ten years of WildWise activities in Devon.
Devon's Nature Ambassadors Chris Salisbury celebrates ten years of WildWise activities in Devon
My last day of work after 7 years as education officer for the Devon Wildlife Trust was on 31 December 1999, the last day of the millennium and a good day to leave something behind if ever there was one!
The first day of the new millennium gave birth to WildWise, a phoenix rising from the ashes, uncertainly at first, but immediately able to fly.
The first flap of wings was in the shape of 66 events commissioned by the Woodland Trust’s ‘Wild About Woods’ project, and so our idea took flight, and our dreams of hosting people in beautiful nature were soon realised. As if by magic, Ray Mears materialised to give us a helping hand during those first years, and by the time he’d been catapulted into media orbit, WildWise had begun to lay its distinctive trail in the long grass.
Our interest was to persuade people to rediscover their connection with nature. Our role was to broker the relationship between individuals and the natural world. We have found a number of ways to do that successfully, but the foundation is, of course, what is already there lying dormant in people, ready to be reawakened. Edward O Wilson has called our natural affiliation for nature ‘biophilia’, and it is this connection that we all naturally have, together with a common aspiration to spend more time outdoors that goes some way to explain WildWise’s success. I have a fundamental faith in our shared appreciation and love of the natural world that though hidden or lost, is ready to be rediscovered at any time.
We have also had the good fortune of a beautiful wildwood setting near Bovey Tracey on Dartmoor, with its rare mix of wild inhabitants, deep quiet and true darkness to help us remember ourselves. This is also in the wider context of living in a gorgeous county – Devon has so much diversity and rich natural heritage to offer and in living here we are truly blessed.
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Naturally, we have had to devise ways to coax people away from modern habits and lifestyles that present barriers to the great outdoors, that will address our collective ‘nature deficit disorder’. In general terms, these areas are bushcraft, fieldcraft and creative interpretation of the natural world. Put another way, we offer the skills and experiences in living outdoors, eg firecraft, wild foods, shelter-building, woodcraft, and also the nature awareness required to observe wildlife at close quarters. As well as hosting families, children, community and corporate groups, we are also developing professional practice in outdoor education with a diverse programme of training events for teachers, rangers, educators, etc.
One of the reasons why WildWise sustains itself is to do with this diversity. Whilst it demands a huge number of hours, it certainly maintains my interest, because one day I’ll be gathered around the fireside telling stories to a group of city kids, the next day I might be on the coast foraging the edible seashore, or on a river journey in open canoes. There are ‘dangerous weekends for boys’, bird language courses, nightwalks, star-treks, horse journeys, wild food rambles, to name but a few of the adventures in 2010, our tenth anniversary year.
But it’s also about values. I passionately believe in experiential learning in nature because I’ve seen how easily people are restored and rejuvenated by sustained time spent in natural settings. Generally speaking, the more time, the deeper the sense of well-being, and it is our task therefore to encourage people to take the step outdoors.
I feel our role at WildWise to be in some way that of ‘nature’s ambassadors’, and it has been a privilege to share our love for the Earth on the courses, camps, holidays and events that everyone has enjoyed so much these last ten years. So, if you have not yet done so, come and join the WildWise campfire, broaden your horizons and take some well-deserved time out in some of Devon’s finest nature!