Most trainers agree that we learn as much from our workshop participants as they learn from us. In our new “Creating Great Wildlife Viewing Experiences’ workshop for Forestry Commission Scotland, I learned I was wrong – not about everything, but one specific thing that I thought was a rule is nothing of the kind.
So now, our rule ‘Thou shalt not present visitors with panels or leaflets describing wildlife that they cannot see because they are there at the wrong time of year.’ is officially a guideline.
Guidelines are like fences, pretty easy to skip over if there is something attractive on the other side. The very best routes do not always follow the guidelines. Guidelines allow individuals to divert experimentally, to find their own way, to be creative. I like training with guidelines.
Rules are something else. They are walls, often covered with barbed wire and dire warnings, written in black on yellow with skulls and lightening strikes. They make sure you stay on track.
Some people prefer rules in training; they are more definite, they tell you where you are. So sometimes when I train, I make up rules. Like:
‘Thou shalt not present visitors with panels or leaflets describing wildlife that they cannot see because they are there at the wrong time of year.’
On the face of it I can see why I thought that might be a rule. It sounds eminently reasonable especially when introduced with the persuasive riff, ‘Nature changes. This is what makes it great and exciting. Some of the changes are unpredictable (and we’ll talk about that particular brand of excitement later) but some are predictable and to do with seasonal change. Seasonal change means that what people can see change, so the interpretation should change too. If they are on the site in March don’t present them with interpretation about ‘if you are here in October, you might see …’.”
But I was still wrong to say ‘I am going to stick my neck out here and be dogmatic. I will give you a rule ..’ It had a great and instant efeffect – this group challenged me. They showed me examples of very good interpretation they had produced for sites where the interest is single species, like the Huntly Peregine Watch or Rogie Falls Salmon leap or the Scottish Beaver Trail. They convinced me, very easily, that my rule is not a rule. In the, admittedly rare, cases where a single species is what draws visitors to a site, interpretation that explains what that species is doing at other times of year makes perfect sense.
However, for the more common nature reserve ‘places for people and wildlife’, ‘your chance to experience wildlife on your doorstep’ situations, I will continue to rage against lazy wildlife interpretation that does not help people enjoy the wonderful year-round, changing myriad of marvels around them because people think one panel is the only answer.