RSPB Bug Safari

RSPB Bug Safari for children aged 6-12, Conwy

This is a very hands-on experience for those aged 6-12, enabling them to have a direct connection to nature with minimal use of equipment.  It is so important to capture their interest and enthusiasm at this young age.  

At the start, there is a brief, warm welcome to a group of 6-16 children sitting on tree stumps near some willow trees and a small patch of wild meadow grass/flowers.

Each child is asked to hunt for creepy-crawlies with no legs, 6, 8, or 8+ legs. There is a tray appropriately labelled in which they can put their specimens for identification, having carefully brushed them into a pot to transport them safely to the tray.  Each safari is an adventure: it depends on the season, the weather and the temperature as to what will be discovered.  

Jonnie (RSPB staff member leading this safari) helps the children think through where they might find the bugs, and the answers start tumbling out: under a log, in the grass, up a tree, on a flower.  Soon the welcome space is empty whilst they venture a little further afield but all within a 15-metre radius.  There are lots of little people looking, listening and actively searching.

Gradually they come back from crawling in the grass, shaking trees, turning logs, or running a net through the grass, to put their finds in a tray.  In just 15 minutes there is an impressive array from a hot, dry time of searching: six-spot burnet moth and its caterpillars; spiders; beetles; earwigs; a toadlet; alder leaf shield bug; non-biting midge;  grasshopper; froghopper; yellow mealworm and a number of other wriggly creatures.

The brush and pot were a great way to help children start making connections with nature.  It was a clean and safe method that helped to contain the often fast-moving insects.  However, when Jonnie started handling the bugs, the natural curiosity of several children made them eager to feel the bug on their own hands.  The toadlet was one of the most popular! 

Before attention spans waned, the group was lined up to walk through the coppice to the dipping pond.  The two volunteer helpers had neatly laid out eight sets of equipment – net, tray, spoon, pot with a magnifying glass in its lid, and an ID chart.  First, Jonnie gathered everyone at one side of the pond so he could show them the safe and effective technique for pond dipping, so that no children fell in(!) and the creatures who were hiding at the bottom could be caught.  Pristine fingers got wet and occasionally muddy! Children were surprised as they felt and saw new creatures in the pond weed or the water, including one who (briefly) enjoyed a leech on his finger!  The great diving beetles were the most popular!  Newts and dragonfly larvae proved to be fascinating too. Questions flowed about life cycles, and stages of development, together with wonder that all this could be found in a seemingly lifeless pond!  As the Bug Safari came to an end the light in their eyes and smiles on their faces, showed this had been a very engaging experience.  They were going to be talking about this for the rest of the day, the week, and …?

Most bug safaris show that some children already have a little knowledge but most have little idea about what they might find.  People travel from near and far (e.g. an hour’s drive); most are not members of the RSPB.  A Bug Safari is offered weekly during the school holidays, as one of the options for birthday celebrations (and is the one that is most often chosen) and is a frequent option for school visits. It is obvious that engaging in this activity, helps their connection move from thinking about nature, to seeing nature, hearing nature (in some cases) and then to feeling nature.  Participating in a bug safari is a fun, educational, and accessible activity.  My lasting memory is of a child who said nothing for the whole session but whose strong grip on their water-filled pot with a great diving beetle said it all!  

With thanks to Tim Wallis, Reserve Manager and to Jonnie Price, Staff Member who led the session and enabled me to complete a documentary photography project.  Susan Blagden, Summer 2022