Whilst planning the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership scheme the team spotted that there was very little biological recording in the area and what did happen relied heavily on the goodwill of a few highly skilled experts. There was a strong desire amongst partners to get a better picture of the Dearne’s wildlife and the Training the Next Generation of Naturalists project proved a fantastic way to do just that.
Sorby Natural History Group
The project was delivered in partnership with Sorby Invertebrates Group and Sorby Natural History Society (of which it is part). By building on and expanding the Society’s existing small programme of workshops, the project delivered:
* Indoor workshops designed to give people more confidence with identifying species especially invertebrates such as insects, snails and slugs and earthworms.
* Field trips which provided an opportunity to collect biological records and for informal field training in identification.
A collaborative approach to organising the programme meant that administration, marketing and booking of the activities was effective. It also meant that high-profile guest tutors such as Stephen Falk, author of the ‘Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland’ could be secured.
Sorby Natural History Society membership includes some very experienced site recorders and specialists in wildlife identification. Working in partnership with the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership has helped this small organisation to get more people involved and move into a new phase of vibrant activity including:
- 31 training workshops held and 500 participants trained
- A total of more than 60 participative sessions including workshops and field trips
- More than 30000 records added to the Barnsley Record Office giving a richer picture of the Dearne Valley wildlife.
Unlocking Specialist Training
Derek Whiteley of Sorby Invertebrates Group observed that the project:
‘provided a service in South Yorkshire that’s not available and it was free, making it available for people with limited means.’
Other high-quality training in this field requires travel and funds to attend which can be a barrier to people attending. For example, Paul Hancock’s specialism excellent courses are run by the Freshwater Biological Association but it is based in Cumbria and attendance involves fees or a yearly membership.
Often participants in this type of project might be older perhaps retired people but this project has also been successful in engaging younger people. For example, members enjoyed leading a session at Howell Wood partnering with the Oak Forest School. “We took some kids down to the fishing pond – it was nice to see the kids getting engaged.” The children were fascinated to find fish lice parasites there. The project has also been attractive to students in South Yorkshire because it has provided a cost-effective, safe and supportive environment in which to learn.
Firing Up a Local Task Force
Workshops were often oversubscribed leading to a waiting list for places; testimony to the clear popularity of the programme.
Derek Whiteley of Sorby Invertebrates Group commented:
‘We’ve had people coming back – a regular core of people – but all the time bringing in new people. We have picked up maybe a dozen more active people during the process who are now very well trained and there’s a peripheral group who are recording in a Citizen Science way. There are definitely some people who have gone on to do things at a higher level.’
Paul Hancock a member of Sorby Invertebrate Group and a workshop participant said he met a variety of people through the group. He described getting ‘roped in’ when the group was looking at aquatic invertebrates; his own passion. Paul said that despite their vast knowledge many of the group’s members don’t feel like experts and are always open to learning something new. He would look at new workshops on offer as part of the project and think ‘I don’t know much about that – I’d like to learn a bit more.’
The project has resulted in about a dozen more people fired-up and ready for the challenge of building a deeper picture of the area’s invertebrate life with the Sorby Invertebrate Group. The group now has a larger, very well-trained membership which makes the future of the organization look positive. In addition to the core of super keen members there is a peripheral group who are continuing to record in a more ‘Citizen Science’ style without the need to be as involved in formal meetings of the group.
A lot of tutors are older and have a vast amount of skills; pairing recorders with newcomers meant that some of that knowledge was shared and newcomers were mentored to be able to record. The way in which people have been getting involved and the impressive number of records generated inspired judges of the National Biodiversity Network awards to award it the coveted Lynne Farrell Group Award for biological recording in 2017.
Fresh Perspectives and New Ideas
Sorby members have reflected on how positive the collaboration with the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership has been. It has prompted the Sorby Invertebrate Group to consider other future partnerships, for example, exploring invertebrate life on farms.
20 high-quality microscopes, field guides and recording postcards purchased by the project will equip future Sorby Invertebrate Group workshops meaning many more will benefit from the investment.
Involvement in the project has been a springboard for individual members to grow in skills and confidence and then become further involved with their local heritage. For example, Paul Hancock has gone on to be involved in a Don Catchment Rivers Trust project and is hoping to get further opportunities to engage schools.
The final legacy of this project are the biodiversity records generated by Training the Next Generation of Naturalists field trips which have been submitted to a secure, public domain at the Barnsley Record. This data can be used to create and manage sites more sympathetically. Derek Whiteley commented that he had met ‘positive land managers’ in the Dearne Valley and the records, alongside Sorby Invertebrate Group reports created for site managers about the wildlife on their site will lead to better conservation of species.