Wildlife Wednesdays at Gibside

Visitors pond-dipping in the burn at Cragside, Northumberland

On the edge of Newcastle lies Gibside, a landscape park packed with wildlife that offers an escape into nature.

We heard about Wildlife Wednesdays from Head ranger at Gibside, Helen McDonald.

What are you doing to reconnect kids with nature?

During the school summer holidays we held a nature-themed event every week – Wildlife Wednesdays.

We ran very popular pond dipping sessions and minibeast hunts. We also held conservation tasks for people to join in with, like our ‘Megabash day’ when we were cutting back rhododendrons. Visitors young and old got stuck in and helped to saw, lop, cut and snip back the invasive rhodi, which shades out so much nature and wildlife.

Our wildlife events have included bird-ringing demonstrations, during which we worked with ringers licensed by the British Trust for Ornithology. The kids were able to see real bird-ringing taking place and find out why it is an important part of monitoring birds at Gibside.

Why do you run the activity?

Throughout the year we run lots of wildlife events, but we wanted to provide a regular activity during the school holidays. With Wildlife Wednesdays families can just drop in at any time of the day and they knew that there would be something wildlife-focused to get involved with, for no extra cost.

Do you think the kids enjoy it?

We’ve engaged with hundreds of families over the school holidays and received lots of feedback telling us how much they enjoy our wildlife-focused events.

In fact, the response has been so positive that we plan to hold Wildlife Wednesdays in all school holidays, with different seasonal themes.

And it’s not just the kids who enjoy it; our volunteers have loved getting involved too. It’s fantastic that there is so much enthusiasm for the activities and we are lucky that it’s our job to be a part of that.

What do the kids say?

Over the years we’ve found that a growing number of the kids are really knowledgeable about wildlife and nature, which is great. They come to our events and love telling us things they’ve learned on school trips, walks in the woods or from wildlife programmes on TV. But it’s even better when they tell us things they learned in our Wildlife Room or at last week’s Wildlife Wednesday!

As a child, what got you into nature and the outdoors?

I remember spending lots of time outdoors as a child, playing simple games like hide and seek, having picnics and paddling in streams with a fishing net. Just having the chance to explore gave me a feeling of freedom.

Discovering things that were new to me was exciting, whether it was a woodlouse under a log or seeing red squirrels chasing each other through the trees. I felt a sense of wonder and a respect for nature that has stayed with me.