Today rewilding is playing an increasingly important role connecting young people with wild nature. This spring and summer has seen a number of exciting educational events take place in the Central Apennines rewilding area.
Rewild the child
Research suggests that a connection to nature is biologically innate; as humans, we have an affinity for the natural world. Yet today children are spending less and less time in nature, and they are missing out. Studies have shown that kids who have direct access to nature are healthier, happier, more confident, less stressed and better learners.
In the Central Apennines rewilding area in Italy, a number of recent events have introduced Italian schoolchildren to the fantastic wildlife and landscapes right on their doorstep. The primary focus has been the area’s endangered population of Marsican brown bears, which the Rewilding Apennines team and local NGO partner Salviamo l’Orso are now working hard to support and increase.
Days at the museum
In the spring of 2018, Salviamo l’Orso took over the running of the Bear Museum in the village of Pizzone, on the edge of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park. This is a great place for children to learn about and familiarise themselves with the area’s Marsican brown bears, with a number of displays and multimedia presentations, as well as guided tours and two lifelike stuffed specimens. The museum, which is staffed by volunteers, is only open to the public on Sundays, but can host educational and informative events throughout the week.
In mid-April a group of schoolchildren from the kindergarten in Cerro al Volturno (a town in the Molise region) had great fun when they visited the Bear Museum. Overseen by Salviamo l’Orso, the activities were designed to stimulate all of their senses: they felt the hair and inspected the body of one of the stuffed bears, sang bear-related songs, tasted honey sweets, played a range of games, and finally drew a bear footprint, which they then took home.
“It was so rewarding to see the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the children,” says Rewilding Apennines Communications Officer Angela Tavone. “The best way to really connect children with wild nature is to let them feel it, touch it and learn from it, to play educational games that exercise the body and the mind.”
In May the Bear Museum hosted two more educational events, with visits from a primary school in Termoli and a kindergarten from Monteroduni. On both occasions, Salviamo l’Orso volunteer Caterina Palombo involved the pupils in games and educational experiences to develop an intimate connection with the area’s most impressive and iconic animal.
Fun in the field
In June it was time to really explore the beautiful nature of the Central Apennines, as members of the Rewilding Apennines team took children from the Molise Altissimo middle school in the town of Carovilli on a field trip to the Montedimezzo Nature Reserve.
Exploring this core area of the Collemeluccio-Montedimezzo Alto Molise UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the students played a range of games to learn more about bears and bear behaviour. They were also tasked with detecting the presence of bears – if they came across tracks or other signs, they had to decide whether they belonged to bears or other animals.
Bear in the square
July 20 saw the third annual installment of “Bear Day – Orso in Piazza” (“Bear in the Square”) take place, held in the town of Pescasseroli in the heart of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park. The Rewilding Apennines team, together with Salviamo l’Orso, manned a stand in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele III, providing information and raising awareness of ongoing efforts to conserve the area’s Marsican brown bears. As well as leaflets, brochures and an afternoon presentation, the sale of bear-themed merchandise also helped to raise funds for bear conservation efforts.
In the morning many children and adults took part in a free guided hike titled “On the trail of the bear”, organised in collaboration with Wildlife Adventures, a Pescasseroli-based company founded in 2009 that offers hiking, trekking and wildlife watching in the parks of the Central Apennines. Wildlife Adventures has received several loans from Rewilding Europe Capital, Rewilding Europe’s enterprise loan facility.
“I think we really connected with a lot of children on that day,” says Angela Tavone. “Judging by the expressions on the faces of one group, I think the one piece of information will never forget is when I compared the weight of a baby bear to a piece of bread. I don’t think they expected it to be so tiny!”
Angela Tavone is looking forward to more educational events in the Central Apennines in 2019 and beyond. “Kids are so important because they are the managers of the future,” she says. “They might grow up to be naturalists, farmers or entrepreneurs, or even politicians. As we continue our efforts to rewild the Central Apennines, opportunities to immerse children in the area’s wild nature should continue to increase.”