Major milestone for community groups at Highland Wildlife Park

Posted 3 Jul 2023 in Edinburgh Zoo

UHI Perth students pose for photo by small polar bear statues during visit to Highland Wildlife Park

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has pledged to enable over 100 communities to better protect nature by 2030 and we know that people protect what they love and understand!

Welcoming groups to our Highland Wildlife Park site is often the first step we can take to show people just how accessible wildlife and wild places can be for us all. We’re working to develop the park to be an effective community resource; by hosting local initiatives and supporting local action we can find our connection to global stories and build resilient, healthy communities.

While we continue to welcome schools, groups and visitors for a fun-filled one-off booking, we’re looking forward to building multi-touch, longer-term programmes alongside the exciting build of Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre. It was perfect timing when the UHI Perth team, as part of the University of Highlands and Islands, got in contact to investigate potential for a new four-week programme based at Highland Wildlife Park.

Students from two of UHI’s applied learning courses, Skill Up and Moving On, joined us to discover more about our amazing animals, build life skills and connect with nature. The new, free, programme that we developed together built on our unique offering here at the park; visiting a beautiful location in the Cairngorms and sharing experiences with our amazing animals from around the world! In our final session we also spent time in Highland Wildlife Park’s wildlife garden looking for native species while pond dipping and bird watching.

A really important component was ensuring the groups had a lead role in evaluating and feeding back on the programme that was centred around practical life skills including team working, planning and action, communication and time management. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with students particularly enjoying experiencing new things, seeing different species that call the park home and working with RZSS’ Discovery and Learning.

Different groups have different needs, so input from young people is especially helpful in allowing us to develop sessions for the future. As well as reviewing the weekly themes and activities, we started each week with a mood scale, using photos of our Arctic foxes as a guide. The ongoing feedback from the students was thoughtful and impressive, together we adapted the sessions to their needs and it’s resulted in a far-ranging and engaging programme that will be able to benefit lots more students and groups.

We are so pleased with the success of the programme and it is rewarding to see zoos being recognised and valued as places to support community groups. Stronger communities have a greater capacity to care for wildlife and we know visits to Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo can help people realise the varied health and wellbeing benefits of being close to nature.

When Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre opens next year, we will have increased capacity to host even more community groups at the park. We hope with the development of these new facilities and programmes hundreds of groups will take part in future iterations of the sessions and re-discover their innate connection to nature.

Caroline Cowe from UHI Perth said: “This project was extremely beneficial to the young people who participated. Their confidence in interacting with other people improved dramatically and they all expressed a feeling of wellbeing.

"They commented that the journey from Perth was long - but worth it!”

Jess Wise, Highland Wildlife Park Discovery and Learning Programme Manager