Heidrun Feuchtmayr provides a summary of a public engagement project with the National Trust to make interpretations for a newly created bird hide in order to inform the public about aquatic larvae of different flies commonly found in ponds, lakes and wetlands.
Being a fan of the National Trust (NT); especially their family programmes, I have enjoyed visiting a few of their local properties over recent years. Halloween Trails, playgrounds, making autumn leaf crowns, Peter Rabbit experience, carving pumpkins - you name it, we’ve done it. However, being a freshwater ecologist, I was always looking for information or educational activities on ponds or lakes, but rarely came across any. When a CEH internal public engagement project seed funding opportunity came up, I did not hesitate to get in touch with one of the local NT locations; Sizergh, to see if we could change that. As it happened, the Rangers at Sizergh had just created a new wetland area called Park End Moss, with a newly built bird hide. The bird hide needed some posters for information for the public. My chance - perfect! I applied for the seed funding to make a poster on ‘water creatures’ and I got the funding. Happy days!
With no time to loose, I met up with Claire, the NT Visitor Experience Consultant, to look at the wetland including the bird hide. Getting to the spot was a task in itself! Navigating the small country roads, finding the path to the bird hide itself. After much wandering and climbing over walls, accompanied with a lot of laughter, we agreed some more signposts will be needed sooner rather than later. At the bird hide, we met Rob the Ranger and had a great opportunity to hear stories on how they have built it and the problems they faced. It all looked great, and the bird hide was, so far, a blank wooden canvas ready to be used.
We decided on three posters to inform visitors: one of the most common birds, one of the story on how the wetland came about and one (mine!) on water creatures to showcase some examples of underwater fly larvae and the adult flies as they emerge. These flies can be the reason why wetlands are so attractive to birds, however people hardly know anything about them. People see the flies (CEH iRecord Dragonflies app) which can only live a few days, but the fly larvae can live months to years underwater (up to 5 years in the case of damselflies). Obviously, the larvae are hard to see for the general public as they live underwater, so I wanted to show pictures of them to make people aware of the importance of wetlands, ponds and lakes in general for biodiversity and as important habitats to be treated with respect.
The ideas were there, and when Clare mentioned that the poster would need pictures with very high resolution (at least 3 MB), I thought: How hard can it be? Well, turns out, quite hard!! It took about double as long as I intended to find those pictures, and in the end I even had to make a chironomid larvae picture myself which is a challenge without a macro lens! By March, I finally had it all together and ready. As NT staff were busy working on other projects it wasn’t until Rachel was put on the case that things were moving forward again. And finally, on the 10th of July 2018, the three posters were sent off to print and will be displayed in the bird hide before the start of the school holidays.
I am very excited to go and visit with my kids and maybe take a pond dipping net with us to see the real life versions. All in all, it was a steep learning curve and a great experience and I hope to work with the NT again some time.