River Stories; Education and engagement

By Kath Smith, our Community and Engagement Officer
Nature is in crisis. Connecting more people of all ages to rivers, lakes and the wider environment has never been more important. So how do SCRT do this? Through education and engagement with nature and our freshwater environments.
Sharing our knowledge and love for freshwater is key to helping people understand what is special about our rivers and lakes as well as the pressures they face. From knowledge comes understanding, from understanding comes action to help improve and protect local environmental assets.
What we do
We work with schools, colleges and community groups who want to know more about rivers and the work we do to support our local watercourses.
While rivers feature on the National Curriculum, most teachers focus on the well-known rivers, such as the River Nile in the Amazon and the River Thames that runs through London. So, its a fantastic opportunity when we get to talk about rivers local to Cumbria and get classes outside to see them up close.
Visiting a river brings learning to life; children can see natural and man-made features, look for invertebrates, carry out data recording and water testing. Freshwater invertebrate sampling ties with the ‘Living things and their habitats’ topic, looking at food chains, life cycles, classifications, the use of keys and adaptations.
We also adapt sessions to meet specific needs. Last year, Year 6 from Ghyllside Primary School wanted to know more about water pollution and Windermere. Working with Hodge Howe Water Centre (Windermere School) we organised water surveys from boats. This included water sampling, invertebrate sampling, and some indoor learning about what pollution is and where it comes from. The children were focused and keen to understand what was happening in the lake and to our rivers. It was great to have that flexibility to deliver such a topic.
Our education work can be linked to specific projects. The LIFE R4Ever Kent project enables us to work with schools in the Kent catchment. So far, we’ve done activities with St Thomas’s CE Primary School in Kendal, Staveley CE Primary School, Kendal College, Grayrigg CE Primary School and will soon be working with St Mark’s CE Primary School in Natland. Sharing stories of why the River Kent is so special is key to safeguarding its future. For example, the plight of the freshwater pearl mussel and the importance of a healthy river is now known by more children and adults than ever before.
Our River Restoration project work led to children from St Thomas’s Primary School planting a whopping 600 trees in Longsleddale earlier this year!
For the past two years we have delivered Eels in the Classroom, working with four schools in the Barrow and Furness area. This has been an amazing opportunity for children to learn up close, about this critically endangered species. Next year, we start our Trout in the Classroom activity through the LIFE R4Ever Kent project! Classes will see a life cycle unfold before their eyes, looking after trout from egg to fry before releasing them into the river.
Community engagement
As you can see, what we do with schools is quite varied. But it isn’t just schools we engage with. Each year we spend time with the University of Cumbria students talking about freshwater, the work we do and attend site visits to facilitate their learning.
We attend shows and eco-fairs and give presentations to community groups. This allows us the chance to show the breadth of work we do, from river restoration to deculverting to habitat restoration and eel pass installation. We talk about the science behind our work, the monitoring we carry out and how these interventions make a difference to our landscape.
Interested in learning more about what we do? Please go to our ‘What we do’ pages or get in touch.