Why do these flags fly at WWT Caerlaverock? What are they? Is that the flag of Norway? What’s going on?
I am pretty sure that’s exactly why these flags are flying – to puzzle visitors, to set us thinking. Specifically to encourage us to ponder about places far away and how they connect with this beautiful part of the Solway coast.
I like puzzles and challenges so am happy to pit my wits against this conundrum. I know that Caerlaverock is famous for the huge flocks of barnacle geese that spend winter there: I have spent happy January days watching them. I know the same geese head off en masse to Svalbard. I realize I have no idea where Svalbard is but guess it’s in Norway.
That feels like good guessing, so I continue. I surmise that these flags are telling me that the barnacle geese have gone to Norway and some other birds (maybe the whooper swans) have gone off to somewhere else that has a rather smart flag with the green star in the middle.
Rather pleased with my cleverness I call into the visitor centre and ask the man there whether I am right. He, very kindly, albeit inaccurately, says ‘just about’; in fact ‘no, you’re completely wrong, smartass’ would have been more accurate. So top marks to Brian for customer care and diplomacy.
The flags fly to show who is in the house. The barnacle geese have not yet gone back to Svalbard (I learned a lot from Brian about just how little time they spend there and how they prefer to spend their time scoffing the lush green grass of Dumfrieshire) and the ospreys have arrived from Senegal (of that green-starred banner).
Good game. I enjoyed that. Being a bit playful in my downtime is always agreeable. Oh, and look, I learned stuff too – and not only that I haven’t yet outgrown being a smartass.
A bit of fun, a light touch, a sense of humour, a bit of quirkiness really helps interpretation. It helps me, the visitor feel this isn’t too serious, that there are real people here, possibly even people I can relate to. Which is nice.
I really liked the flags … but I loved the door.
Look at that! I think that is brilliant. It is as good an invitation to explore the natural world as I have ever seen. A clear promise that there are adventures, surprises and discoveries ahead – and that the world is full of magic. Who could fail to open the door and look in? Certainly not me!
One of the hard things about trying to show people wildlife is that if they are not used to looking, they won’t see it. I have had a bit of a bee in my bonnet for a while about teaching people field skills. Caerlaverock had a fun take on that too.
I not only like puzzles and challenges, I am ridiculously competitive about them. So I am embarrassed to tell you just how hard I looked for those robins. I found some …
Nice touches. Interpretation isn’t always about the big and the grand. There is always a place for flair and creativity. Sometimes the delight is in the detail. When fun and games draw people, big and small, into important aspects of the site – like migration, empathy with wildlife, and observation skills – they can be a popular, painless and powerful communication
I have no idea who came with these ideas or how. I suspect someone with a really good grasp of visitors and the fact that they enjoy this quiet but spectacular site in different ways, a sense of fun, a good intuitive sense of what would work and the courage to give it a try, was behind it. The result is a series of games and puzzles that provoke intellectual learning (flags), stimulate imaginative connection (door) and build new skills (robins). Some readers will recognise the theoretical models and maybe they were involved in the planning. Either way, I think this is successful interpretation.
I should say there were plenty of panels and lovely WWT staff to talk to at Caerlaverock for those who wanted them, For me, however it was these little fun touches that made my day.