The art of interpreting wildlife at RSPB Ynys-hir

The fleeting, changeable and unpredictable nature of wildlife is part of why we love it. It also makes it aggravatingly difficult to interpret. RSPB Ynys-hir rises to the challenge brilliantly.

Ynys-hir in the Dyfi Valley is a beautiful place.

Ynys-hir in the Dyfi Valley is a beautiful place.

Wild things hide, skulk about and don’t show up on demand. They fly away, die, eat each other, make out they are not there. Then, just when it all seems too difficult, they will do something so jaw-droppingly, hair-raisingly amazing that it makes life sparkle and tingle.

It is a challenge to interpret this unpredictability and we have long argued that permanent panels are a really poor solution for something that will be different on every visit. We are strong advocated that fixed interpretation at wildlife sitesshould often be temporary and responsive to what is happening. Over the last few years quite a lot of people who run nature reserves in the UK (notably the RSPB and the WWT) seem to be agreeing with us and are developing nice ideas for seasonal interpretation.

RSPB Ynys-hir in Wales really impressed by taking it further.

Firstly, when we arrived they gave us this. Up to the minute information on what has been seen and a specific call to action on the Greenland white front.

P1330575 49A list of  what to look out for at this time of year and a map. Bang on the button – just the information we needed. The fact that it was given to us by a friendly and knowledgeable person at the desk made it even more pleasurable. That would have been enough for me to blog about the good visit – but it’s not the best bit

The reserve is lovely and looked glorious in autumn.  That would have been enough for me to blog about I much I enjoyed my visit – but it’s still not the best bit.

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We found lovely examples of temporary seasonal interpretation.


Timely information, related to what we could see and written on local slate to boot. It demonstrates that people here notice and enjoy what’s around them and are prepared to take a bit of trouble to show it to visitors. Nice work that I could well have blogged about – but there was even better to come.

When we got back to the small visitor centre, the woodburning stove was lit. The comfy chairs around it were empty and inviting. The coffee and snacks were high quality. The staff were exceptionally friendly and interested in us and our visit.  That would certainly have been enough for me to blog about a warm, welcoming visit – but the best bit was still to come.

The coffee and snacks were high quality. The staff were exceptionally friendly and interested in us and our visit.

Even better than the fire,the chairs and the coffee was the browsing material. Inspired and inspirational.

This is the best bit. Ynys-hir has an ‘artist on site’, Becky Thorley-Fox, and her work is on show in the visitor centre. Her sketches are pinned on the wall and shown in two portfolios

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The combination of wildlife art and wild places is resonant. The sketches embodied the transient, mobile delight of being with wildlife. The centre manager told us the sketches on the wall change week to week. I think that is possibly the most brilliant way to reflect the dynamism of the natural world and how it touches people I have ever seen in a visitor centre .

At Ynys Hir the RSPB is showcasing and supporting  a young wildlife artist whose work celebrates the joy of being there. That’s a good thing to do  too.

This shy fox made its way home with me.

This glimpse of a  fox made its way home with me.

Sitting by the fire, looking at the art in the portfolios and on the wall, was lovely. It made us happy. Of course in business terms, it extended our visit, built our relationship with Ynys Hir and with the RSPB and encouraged us to spend more money.

We bought these too.

We bought these too.

We left with happy memories of a hospitable, beautiful reserve and with two pieces of original art. That’s one good day out.




One thought on “The art of interpreting wildlife at RSPB Ynys-hir

  1. Nethercoat, Ivan says:

    Hi Susan
    Thanks for that, I’ve forwarded to the Wales Director and our newish Operations Manager.

    Hope all’s well, seems a long time since Old Moor.


    Sent whilst away from the desk – may be a little brief


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