The ruins of the Brograve Windmill

Nick Sanderson: Bringing people and nature together

Introduce us the project

Since 2021, we have worked with schools, youth groups and colleges to deliver practical conservation work at an area of fen at Barton Turf Adventure Centre adjacent to Barton Broad in the Northern part of the Broads National Park. The project aims to improve the habitat quality and accessibility to the site, and to deliver inspirational learning to a wide variety of young people.

My role has been to organise tasks, sites, and volunteers to help deliver learning objectives and to benefit the unique wildlife and habitats of the fen.

With wonderful colleagues and a fantastic team of volunteers, we offer work experience opportunities for small groups of students, some of whom have additional learning needs and disabilities or other barriers to engaging with the natural environment.

I have developed strong working relationships with local SEND Colleges and other youth organisations, especially Pathways College Norwich and New Routes Integration, who work with refugees and newly settled immigrant communities.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I have a very varied job. My role involves all aspects of education, outreach and engagement with children, young people and the wider public in the Broads National Park.

Without a doubt, the best bits are delivering programmes on site with groups of young people.  This might mean leading conservation tasks, bushcraft activities, natural history, and ecological surveying or working with partners to organise boat trips and canoeing to get young people out on the water.

Nick on site with school children

Nick on site with school children

What motivated you to start the project?

I’m always looking for opportunities to inspire young people about the natural environment and the Broads National Park in particular.

The multiple benefits of working outdoors are so well documented and important for both learning and health and well-being.

Following Covid-19 lockdowns, there was a fresh appreciation for the natural healing qualities of the outdoors. This presented a new opportunity to work with Barton Turf Adventure Centre and groups seeking to engage students in outdoor practical work.

Collectively, we saw the potential to inspire young people through involvement in outdoor activities and to improve habitats and access at the same time.

It’s a genuine win-win project, and to work with inspirational people in amazing natural places is an absolute privilege. Inspiration often comes from the students themselves: For example, one young person from New Routes Integration said: “I breathe and see differently in nature. I feel free.”

Any stories from your experience working on the project you’d like to share?

One magical moment comes to mind from last summer: We were pond dipping with a small group of young people at a turf pond on a quiet corner of the marsh. Despite the group being enthusiastically noisy, a kingfisher landed within a few metres of the dipping platform. The group quickly quietened down to enjoy a wonderful close view of the bird perched on an overhanging branch. This wild encounter lasted for several minutes. It was if the kingfisher had come to supervise the group dipping, and maybe to pass on a few tips. I couldn’t help recalling the quote from Wordsworth- “Let nature be your teacher”.

What’s next for the project?

This is a project that we hope will develop and expand, engaging new groups and bringing more areas of fen into favourable condition for wildlife.

At Barton Turf, the next steps are to continue to clear invasive willow scrub, to create new routes around the site, and to establish new open water habitats by clearing overgrown dykes.

We’ll also consolidate the project with Pathways College and build the work into their curriculum to offer accredited qualifications in practical skills.

Any closing thoughts?

Experience, enjoy, learn about, and look after the Earth and its precious places and wildlife. Share this with others at every opportunity!

Hear more about the winners of the 2023 National Park Protector Awards.