Health and Happiness worked alongside the HFT project on site at Highland Wildlife Park. This was an opportunity to utilize a local resource, add value to the Park and enable access of disadvantaged groups to areas of development that would otherwise have not been possible. Our aspects of the project focused on the following:
Establishing Woodland Sites & Developing Woodland Skills. Health and Happiness has worked on environment projects for the past 10 years and established strong links with a number of organisations. We work to include other organisations as part of our approach to inclusion and so credit for much of this work also belongs to those groups. By extending to other areas/habitats, we also linked in with our existing project work, which was enabling people to learn about woodlands and skills of using cameras, tools, health and safety knowledge, dealing with the public, assessing accessibility of sites for people with disabilities etc. As with many projects, once this started, a whole array of opportunities and developments arose within this outcome area. We worked alongside HFT but also others, such as Dunnet Forest Trust and the Countryside Rangers of Highland Council, (tree planting in Great Glen Way and gorse clearing on beaches in Nairn), as well as other Community Connectors from Health and Happiness.
This provided a variety of habitats for the group we work with and given the diversity of environment across Highland, a wider canvas on which to engage people on the conservation agenda. The Dunnet Forest work (Caithness Community Connector) included the creation of a barefoot sensory trail (15 people with learning disabilities and on autistic spectrum, alongside 14 staff and volunteers from Dunnet Forestry Trust and learning support from Wick High School). This also resulted in several young people achieving the Saltire volunteering award. We also undertook work alongside Countryside Rangers in Newtonhill Croft, (4 people) maintaining willow and later this year, will be building some bug hotels. It was these sites, and some other areas of woodland in Ross-shire and around Inverness, that were the sites for the woodland training skills programme.
Approximately 35 people directly benefitted from the woodland skills/site programme, learning the following skills:
- Identifying tree species
- Learning about woodland ecology and the balance of species that it supports
- Taking responsibility as a work team
- Sharing information and knowledge about environment
- Learning about health and safety
- Learning how to use basic garden tools
- Learning how to use cameras
- Developing confidence and skills
- Taking pride in their local environment
- Dealing with the public
The work has also added value to the sites where we have implemented these skills and raised awareness within the individuals, families and wider community of the importance of our environment and the need to nurture, protect and enjoy it as part of our heritage.
One legacy of this project is ‘An Introduction To Woodland Skills’ programme, which can be used anywhere and be adapted. The Countryside Ranger for the Great Glen Way is going to work with us on updating it in October and revising some of the contents.
The other important outcome of the project was to interact with the public and participate in raising awareness about local environment and conservation. The knowledge base of local people around the Highland Wildlife Park and about the Aspen was ascertained to be non-existent from two half days of surveying people (Aviemore and Kingussie). However, the public were generally responsive and interested that the Park was involving community groups. There was also a clear need identified to highlight the Highland Wildlife Park as a resource to be utilized and valued more by local people (see follow-up actions). In terms of talks about the conservation and environment work, small groups of 2-3 people (with a supporter) have talked to community groups, (approximately 14 groups) in addition to this work being flagged up in professional areas, for the purposes of joining groups together (such as Milton Community Woodland). There are more presentations planned to the end of the year and the awareness aspect of the project will be an ongoing commitment.
- The community sees people with learning disabilities as active citizens and contributors to their community
- Citizen Science is a current and vital work stream for communities and this work is inspirational in highlighting that we all have something to gain from investing in our environment.
- Opportunity for participants to gain awards, such as the Saltire Award for volunteering
- Opportunities to link with other groups and organisations that may not otherwise have worked with special needs groups
- Raising awareness of learning disability and autism and achieving inclusion in a discreet and more meaningful way
- Raising awareness of the importance of conservation
- Identifying Highland Wildlife Park as a resource to value and to add value to as citizens
- Legacy of work undertaken in tangible ways, such as the sensory trails, cleared beaches, trees planted, and adding some of this information (as relevant) to National databases
- Enhancing the work of local woodland trusts and the Countryside Rangers
10.Joining up our skills and knowledge across organisations, to work together, on issues that affect all of us.
The Specific Legacy
Our commitment to environmental work will continue across all areas of Highland but because the Highland Wildlife Park was the specific inspiration, the following legacies on site at HWP will include:
a) A Year in the Life of Highland Wildlife Park – a photographic project across the public areas of the park, (possible due to the grant and cameras)
- Identifying specific sites for themed photographic surveys, such as trees, lichens, flowers, grasses, fungi and maintaining a year long record of how the flora and fauna changes.
- Linking the photography with training from outside experts on specific species, (such as fungi)
- Learning how to use Internet based species identification programmes and feeding this information, through Jasper Hughes (Education, HWP), into a National Database of species identified.
b) Litter Picking – our participants are to help their local facility by litter picking and keeping the public areas clean and tidy (hence removing hazards for local flora and fauna)
c) Questionnaires – undertaking broader work about public awareness of the Park with questionnaires to the public
d) Planning an exhibition of the photographs and film
e) HFT – maintaining coordination of the bio hubs and inviting us to work alongside them next Spring, to continue the Aspen corridor
Linking this work with awards such as Saltire Awards, John Muir Awards etc