Wildlife experiences and interpretation

We (particularly TellTale partner Peter Phillipson) have spent a lot of time over the years thinking about how interpretation can help people have great wildlife experiences. I have written several posts about the special challenges of interpreting wildlife (see here  and here).

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We believe that interpretation has an important role in preparing people for the experience of seeing wildlife. This includes recognising that the views you may (or actually may not) have will probably not be like the television – but they will be yours and real. They are in effect a gift, a moment, a one-off. For many people wildlife experiences are emotional and spiritual and shift perceptions, at least for a while.

We saw wild boars from the viewing platform - a moment to remember

We saw wild boars from the viewing platform – a moment to remember

This focus on wildlife experiences as a core part of the interoperation package has led us to emphasise the value of nature guides in all their forms, from guides in the hides and roving engagers, to the nature trek leader. It also makes us advocate changing, temporary fixed interpretation.

Peter spoke on the benefits of temporary changing interpretation at the Interpret Europe Conference on interpreting sensitive heritage in Kraków. In his talk he considered wildlife sites as sensitive places, both ecologically and in terms of sense of place. Insensitive permanent interpretation can damage both these aspects of this fragility. Temporary changing interpretation is one solution that can help highlight many of the more transient aspects of wildlife.

Traditional interpretation panels struggle with such elusive and ephemeral things. However, in Bailowieza Forest we found a series of panels that go a long way towards capturing these points through photography.

A reminder that these great big beasts can hide in forests

A reminder that these great big beasts can hide in forests

You often get only incomplete views of nature

You often get only incomplete views of nature

The panels line a walkway that approaches a wildlife viewing platform that is a lovely viewpoint. We saw wild boar and roe deer and numerous birds from there.

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These panels are not about science, they are about the sense and spirit of the animals and how you might see them, through mist, glimpsed through trees. They evoke an awareness of their presence in this place.

Exquisite images capture exquisite moments. This is more important than the details of lifecycle, diet, longevity, gestation period and all the other facts than interpreters may use to mire down wildlife interpreters.

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Visitors do not come to this viewing platform to start a zoology degree but for the experience of looking for and hopefully seeing bison.

Expert and high quality wildlife photographers, illustrators and film-makers are as important to creating evocative and truthful wildlife interpretation as nature guides. Our successful and ground-breaking work at Lindisfarne drew heavily on the skills of wildlife photographerLaurie Campbell  and wildlife illustrator Dan Powell.

The best wildlife interpretation will usually involve commissioned work, that is carefully and specifically briefed. The bison panels in Narewka show just how effective this can be.

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The viewing platform and panels were part of The Bison Land project funded by the EU Life Program.

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