Walk on the wild side

Date Posted: 15/03/2013

From sleeping in safari-style tents to tracking down the Big Five at zoos, there are plenty of educational adventures encompassing wildlife and the great outdoors.

Set in the weald of Kent, Penshurst Place is well-known as a magnificent ancestral stately home with a history spanning 700 years. However an altogether very different experience is on offer in the woods and parkland of the 2,500-acre estate.

Returning for 2013 is the Bushcraft Company, which operates outdoor adventures for schools at Penshurst and other locations in Cheshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wales. Based around tented woodland camps, there are wilderness experiences lasting from one to five days. Tailored for pupils from KS2 upwards, sessions include a survival lecture, fire-lighting skills, wild food workshop, archery, shelter building, orienteering and fun team challenges.

Stratford Butterfly Farm offers an excellent opportunity for pupils to learn about tropical rainforests, insects and other animals. All pre-booked groups of ten or more receive a guided tour at no extra cost, which can be adapted to suit classroom topics. In addition to the rainforest flight area filled with colourful butterflies, visiting schools will meet the many other inhabitants including iguana, lizards, birds and fish plus the chance to look at and hold some of the residents of Insect City.

There are many high-flying attractions at Hampshire’s Hawk Conservancy Trust. Situated on a 22-acre site at Andover, the trust is a charity committed to the conservation of birds of prey and their habitats, raising awareness and educating future generations. There are over 150 birds of prey on view, including owls, vultures, hawks and eagles, and the educational programme includes engaging keeper talks, bird holding sessions and awe-inspiring flying demonstrations.

When it comes to monkey business, pupils can see Barbary macaques behaving as they do in the wild at Monkey Forest, an attraction on Staffordshire’s Trentham Estate. Teachers can take pupils on self-directed walks through the 60-acre forest where 140 monkeys freely roam, or book a one-hour session with a member of the education team.

Go wild in Wales

Folly Farm, a former dairy farm in Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire, is now home to more than 250 animals from 50 different species including the only giraffe in Wales. The adventure park and zoo has expanded its educational programme to include topic days with workshops, a guided tour, guest speakers and a theatre show all based around topics chosen by teachers. Themed education days, launched with an Africa Day in 2012, will continue this year and students can become Trail Blazers with the new pupil-led flash card adventurer packs.

In the same county, students can embark on a voyage of discovery with Thousand Islands Expeditions. Based in St Davids, the company operates wildlife guided boat trips to Ramsey Island RSPB nature reserve, where the cliffs are among the highest in Wales and home to many bird species with hundreds of seal pups born on its beaches in the autumn. The educational programme includes a trip round the island with the company’s resident geologist and wildlife guide, and land-based trips to explore the island’s wildlife, flora and fauna or study insects with insect expert and TV presenter Dr Sarah Beynon.

5 top zoos & wildlife attractions to consider

  • Bristol Zoo Gardens: A conservation and education charity, the zoo offers sessions for all age groups and many include the opportunity for pupils to meet up to three animals such as tame reptiles, small mammals and invertebrates.
  • Chester Zoo: Reportedly the largest zoo in the UK, Chester houses 8,000 animals - including 400 species of rare, exotic and endangered wildlife - in 110 acres of award-winning zoological gardens. The discovery and learning team offers a programme of exciting, hands-on learning activities linked to different subjects.
  • Cotswold Wildlife Park: This 160-acre zoo has a diverse collection of species, many of them endangered. Many educational talks are given by animal keepers as pupils stand next to the animals they are learning about. Schools can also see eye-to-eye with the park’s tallest residents on the new giraffe walkway.
  • Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust: With a strong commitment to education and field studies, the trust has four education centres situated in its nature reserves that stretch from the Humber to the Wash. All education programmes are linked to the National Curriculum.
  • Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust: Each of the WWT’s nine wetland nature reserves located across the UK (including London) have a distinctive natural habitat and wildlife, offering a range of outdoor learning experiences from pond dipping and bird feeding sessions to spotting migratory birds.
School Travel Organiser's Guide