Prize-winning schools enjoy an outdoor education day at Ewhurst Park

Wednesday 22 March was a big day for us at Ewhurst Park. We welcomed some very important guests, including His Excellency Ambassador Dato’ Zakri Jaafar, the Malaysian High Commissioner to London, and his team, together with 60 primary school children, who were the winners of our beaver naming competition. The competition was run by our friends at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust via their amazing Wilder Schools programme, which helps children discover and connect with the natural world.

The names chosen by our wonderful judges were Chompy and Hazel, and the winning pupils were from Jaguar Class at Whitchurch Church of England Primary School, in Whitchurch, and Team Wilder at Mount Pleasant Junior School, in Southampton.

It was heart-warming to see the children engaging with our landscape recovery project, especially those who live in urban areas, some of whom were experiencing an open landscape for the first time. The children were given a tour of the estate, including, of course, the beaver enclosure. The beavers were well hidden – no doubt sleeping after their nocturnal activities – but the children were eagle-eyed looking for clues of beaver activity, spotting evidence of gnawed willow trees.

His Excellency Ambassador Dato’ Zakri Jaafar, with me and three pupils from Mount Pleasant Junior School. (Credit: Phil Cannings)

The children listened attentively to an excellent talk by Eva Bishop from The Beaver Trust to whom we are most grateful to for giving us her valuable time. Then, with the help of His Excellency and his team, the children planted willow and hazel trees – both beaver favourites – and watched a demonstration of coppicing, a traditional method of woodland management that involves cutting trees at their base to create a ‘stool’ for new shoots to grow. The schools were presented with prizes and mementos, including the promise of copies of our children’s book, Chompy and Hazel Go To Ewhurst Park, and hazel trees to take back to plant in their school nature gardens.

It was remarkable how much information the children retained. At the end of the day, when interviewed by journalists, they proudly shared all the facts they had learned about beavers – such as how beavers became extinct in the UK 400 years ago and how they are a ‘keystone species’ that helps to increase bio-diversity: their dams create wetlands in which insects and plants thrive, which attracts other animals, from birds to voles.

Me with His Excellency Ambassador Dato’ Zakri Jaafar, his wife Datin Nor Aini and prize-winning pupils. (Credit: Phil Cannings)

A total of 18 Hampshire schools were invited to take part in the naming competition. We were incredibly impressed by the level of engagement from across the whole county and the creativity of the submissions received. A big thank you to our judges Rosemary Mayfield, Debbie Tann (HIWWT), Rob Needham (Beaver Trust) and Rob West (North Wessex Downs AONB). Helping to inspire the next generation to take action for nature is one of the most rewarding things about our regeneration journey at Ewhurst Park.

Having the support of His Excellency Ambassador Dato’ Zakri Jaafar and his team, and having them join us on our journey, was a truly great honour for me personally. I grew up in Malaysia which has some of the richest biodiversity in the world, which inspired me from an early age to be passionate about nature. His Excellency’s presence with us on the day of the schools’ visit was an opportune moment to reflect on the grassroots principle of ‘think globally, act locally’: we are a global community with a shared interest in looking after our planet. Coming together as a global community and understanding this concept is fundamental to our future.