9,000 children set to get free school visits to Martin Mere as part of new Generation Wild initiative

Martin Mere Wetland Centre has launched an ambitious initiative to help 9,000 local children make meaningful connections with nature.

The ground-breaking project called Generation Wild, has been created in partnership with theatrical producers, puppeteers, and schools, It will invite local primary school children in economically deprived areas for a free visit to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) site.

Eligibility is based on the percentage of pupils receiving free school meals.

On the visit they will take part in an immersive experience and meet ‘Ava’, a creature who is part girl and part bird.

Martin Mere Wetland Centre

>>>Find out out more about the project here.

Charlotte Levene, Generation Wild project manager, said: “We know that when children connect with the outdoors and nature, it improves their physical and mental wellbeing and behaviour, yet research shows that 75 per cent of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates.

Chris Whitehead, Learning Manager adds: “Just as importantly, if children don’t experience nature, they won’t come to love it and if they don’t love it, they won’t take action to protect it – Generation Wild aims to inspire the next generation of conservationists.”

>>>What are the giant lego sculptures at Martin Mere? Click here to find out.

School children witht Ava

The children first meet Ava in a digital storybook in the classroom and then in ‘real life’ at Martin Mere as they stumble across an enormous nest and are introduced to her in a live, interactive puppet show. The children are then given a ‘translatorphone’, where Ava’s animal friends guide them through a nature trail, revealing her incredible backstory and helping her on a journey back to the wild.

Every pupil will be given a voucher for a free, return visit to WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre with their family to continue Ava’s journey. Meanwhile, back in the classroom or at home, children, teachers and family members can continue to follow Ava’s journey via an interactive website.

Chris added: “We’re particularly aware that children from disadvantaged communities have even fewer opportunities to interact with nature and often feel like nature isn’t for them. Through Generation Wild, we are keen to remove some of those barriers by making the natural world more accessible, familiar and fun, while instilling the belief that nature is for everyone over the long term.”

The children will be encouraged to complete activities in school, at home and in the local area, in the hope of becoming a ‘Guardian of the Wild’ – the idea being that the children and families continue engaging with the natural world beyond the classroom and their initial visits.

Class teacher Cath Pinkney was among the first groups to experience Generation Wild said, “I’ve been a teacher for 10 years and this was the most interactive and informative trip I’ve ever been on - the children and adults alike were engaged the whole way through.”

She continued: “The resources linked perfectly with our science objectives and the children were fully absorbed in Ava’s transformation and loved meeting her in the nest. The children are already planning some of the activities and that level of engagement is rare.”

Children from the school echoed Cath’s enthusiasm; with pupil Josie Mathew-Penty, saying: “It was the best trip I’ve ever had - I’ve already completed some of the activities and can’t wait to get my Guardian of the Wild badge in assembly.”

Another pupil, Paramveer Singh-Kapoora added: ”I couldn’t believe it when we saw Ava in the nest - we only just learnt about her the day before, and there she was,” while his classmate, Eltigani Hassoun, added: “I’m going back at the weekend – my mum says we can go again because we’ve learnt so much.”

The project will also be the subject of new PhD research, between Cardiff University and WWT, examining how engagement with nature and wetlands in particular, can enhance children’s wellbeing and influence their views about the natural world.

Dr. Kersty Hobson from Cardiff University, who is part of the academic team overseeing the research said: "We are really excited to be collaborating with WWT and Martin Mere on this ground-breaking piece of work that will give us a deeper understanding of the best ways to engage children and instil a life-long love of nature, particularly amongst communities that often don't have regular access to nature experiences."

Generation Wild has been funded through an anonymous charitable foundation with additional funding provided by the ScottishPower Foundation.