Today we’re excited to launch new guidance to support more inclusive multi-sensory experiences in nature.
The audio description and visual awareness recommendations are intended for staff and volunteers at all natural heritage settings, such as nature reserves, country and coastal parks, parklands and gardens.
You can download the guidance using the buttons below.
Produced in collaboration with VocalEyes, the RSPB and Andy Shipley as part of our “Vocalising Nature Sense: Nature Narratives” project, this work has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account.
During the project, we co-designed and delivered tailored visual awareness and audio description training workshops at four contrasting case study sites around the country: Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, Sherwood Forest, Durlston Country Park, and Sheffield Park Gardens.
The guidance aims to support other natural heritage sites to promote inclusive multisensory nature experiences amongst people with sight impairment, whilst also raising awareness of these types of settings as places for everyone.
Reflecting on the experiences of taking part in the training, the Leighton Moss Visitor Experience Manager commented, “Stepping outside of our normal way of engaging with the public was quite a revelation. We are so used to interpreting things in a visual way, it was really challenging (in a good way!) to consider ways of connecting people to the immediate environment using a different approach”.
If you would like to explore options for participating in tailored Nature Narratives training workshops at your natural heritage site, do get in touch with Anna Fineman at VocalEyes (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out more.
The benefits of opening up sites in this way have been clearly articulated throughout the Sensing Nature project. For example, Dick Groves, who wrote a lovely piece back in February 2018 about his visits to RSPB Titchwell and WWT Barnes after taking part in our Nature Sense workshop at WWT Slimbridge in November 2017, commented:
“I would like to thank you for introducing me to an underdeveloped interest in birdlife. The RSPB and WWT reserves in particular have been a revelation to me. Having previously walked by such places and been ignorant of what they had to offer I have now figuratively had my eyes opened. No doubt an unusual observation for a blind guy to make! With their enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff and very well thought out sites, I found these locations to be accessible and safe places for blind people to visit. Above all, I really appreciated the amount of time and care that was given to me as an individual during my visits.”
Similarly, following the Nature Narratives training at the Sherwood Forest case study site, the nearby Sheffield Visually Impaired Walking Group organised a guided visit to the site. One of the walkers has shared her impressions of the day here:
“We were met by three delightful guides; Jack, Gary and Indi. First we were shown around the forest and climbed into the Minor Oak. I think about nine of us were in there. We were then shown a very old tree with a large circumference. About 20 of us all stood around it, touching each other’s hands to get a feel for the width. Much to everyone's delight, we were also allowed to touch and feel very carefully the Major Oak as Jack opened the barriers and we all stood around it.
After lunch we marched off to Budby as the guides said they had seen and heard woodlarks singing that morning—this bird is very rare and I have never heard one, only on a CD or phone app. We marched over heath and scrubland where they nest but we were disappointed as they did not show or sing. This would have been the icing on the cake for me but in the forest we were greeted by song thrush, which sang the whole time we were there, wrens, green finches, great tits, coal tits, blue tits and robins.
The weather was perfect–warm no wind–and I heard one of our members say we will remember this as being a perfect day.”
Through this work, we aim to catalyse a shift in how people understand inclusive access. We want to emphasise the need to progress from thinking about visitor needs and priorities solely in terms of disability—with the risk of segregating experiences—to understanding people as individuals with diverse nature interests and knowledge, who may or may not also have impairments of some kind.
Such shifts are important within wider debates and policies about ‘Outdoors for All’, recognising people with sight impairment not as people to make changes for, but as people to make changes with, as individuals with their own valuable knowledge, interests and skills to bring to the work of organisations like the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts.