A place to inspire the next generation
By Chris Phillips, Trustee
I have been visiting Wittenham Clumps since my family moved to Oxfordshire in the early 1990s. We regularly explored the wonderful landscape and joined activities run by the Northmoor Trust (as it was back then!). I even remember a dark and misty drive to the Clumps in the early hours of January 1st 2000 so that we could welcome the dawning of the new Millennium!
A couple of years ago I attended a hedgelaying course at the Trust with my brother. Our grandfather had been a farm labourer in rural Somerset and as children he used to tell us about his winter tasks including clearing ditches and making sure that the hedges were stock proof. For us to spend a couple of days learning the skills that our grandfather would have used was a very special experience. I’ve since joined several of the volunteer working parties who help to maintain and improve our places and it’s been a pleasure to play even a small part in looking after them.
Four years ago I became a Trustee. I chair Earth Trust’s Safety Committee and, as a retired head teacher, have also taken a keen interest in the environmental education programme. A rich variety of experiences are offered including pond dipping and bushcraft skills as well as sessions more tightly aligned to the National Curriculum.
One of my most memorable visits was joining a Countryside Skills session; a unique course that offers experience and qualifications to pupils who can find the traditional academic environment challenging. The focus was on assisting Emma Blomfield, our Farm Step shepherd, in the lambing shed. After helping with a few simpler tasks, the students were offered the chance to number the lambs. Trying to hold a frisky young animal and spray a number on its side is not a simple task! The memory of seeing the level of engagement, enjoyment and achievement this gave these young people still remains with me.
Despite all the difficulties presented by the pandemic, construction of the wonderfully named Earth Lab is now complete. Having followed this from the planning stage I am very excited about the opportunities that this building will provide. It is a place where Earth Trust’s vision can become a reality for the next generation of visitors. A place that piques curiosity and facilitates discovery about the natural world and where even more children and young people develop a deeper understanding of their environment and their role in caring for it in the future.