Resource 4: Developing a nature trail
Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils
Developing a nature trail is not a difficult thing to do. You and your pupils learn a lot and it helps you all appreciate what the environment has to offer.
What is a nature trail?
A trail is a planned walk along a mapped-out path. There are sites, or stations, along the trail where people can stop to observe things of interest. There is usually a pamphlet or guide that explains what is to be seen and gives extra details and background information to support people’s observations.
The first step – discussion
You need to start off by discussing what you mean by a nature trail. The pupils need to feel it is something worth doing. You should talk a little about what plants you plan to look out for, and what you want to focus on. It could be something simple like how many different types of tree can we find, and what plants do we find associated with the different kinds of trees. Or perhaps you could focus on looking for signs of resilience in plants. Make sure you make a few notes in this discussion.
First exploratory walk
You need at least two clipboards so that people can write easily on the walk. If you don’t have clipboards, they can be easily improvised using stiff card and clothes pegs. The first clipboard is for a pair of pupils who volunteer to map the route you take and note down the points of interest. The second clipboard will be for a pair of pupils who list the plants as they are found. If you have lots of clipboards, pupils could work in groups of four with two clipboards for each group.
Before you start the walk, speak to your pupils about appropriate behaviour and think about any possible dangers. The biggest fear might be of snakes, but when a large crowd walks in the bush, any sensible snake makes sure that it is well out of the way. If a snake is seen, it is best left alone. No one should panic. Give the snake time to move away. Then just walk past calmly, avoiding the place where the creature was last seen. Eating unknown plant parts or berries could be dangerous, and pupils should watch out for thorns and stinging nettles as well as stinging insects like hornets. Another thing to be avoided is somebody letting a branch swing back into the face of the following person, especially if it has thorns.
As you go round the walk, stop when you see anything interesting. Spend a little time observing. Encourage pupils to ask questions and to try to find answers to the questions raised. When you come across plants that are not known, ask one pupil to be responsible for finding out its name and any interesting information about it. They might need to break off a small part of a twig with some leaves, flowers or fruit without harming the plant. If you have a camera/cellphone you could take photos of each plant and tree.
A circular path is best, but the way will also depend on the paths available to you.
After the walk – discussion
When you get back to the classroom, discuss what went well. What didn’t you see that you were hoping to see? Did you notice any differences between north- and south-facing slopes? Or any differences near streams, lakes or roads?
Give your pupils a few days to find out about the plants that were not well known. Let them report back and write up what they have found.
Second exploratory walk
Now you want to improve on what happened the first time. You might also want to think of a way of numbering or marking the larger plants that doesn’t harm them, but makes identification easier. This is a problem to solve. You need something durable (that lasts) which can be fastened to a plant and can be seen. A few more outings with some of your pupils may still be needed before a final route is settled and the stations are properly marked on the map.
Finalising the nature trail
Then a pamphlet or booklet can be designed and made. Make sure that your pupils give tasks to different members of the class and that everyone has a chance to contribute to the pamphlet. (If you have access to a computer or laptop, your pupils could use this to lay out their pamphlet. You might include images from a camera/cellphone or from the Internet).
Your class could now invite other classes or teachers to experience the nature trail that they have designed. It might be interesting to invite some pupils from a neighbouring school. Another task is to ask some volunteers to design a questionnaire to find out what people think of the trail.
Repeating the trail
It would really be worthwhile to repeat the trail with pupils at different times of the year so that they could compare seasonal changes. Then they could include that information in an improved version of the nature trail pamphlet.
Below is an example of a nature trail in a Ghanaian butterfly sanctuary.
Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary
Located 20 km on the Kumasi–Accra highway is a quiet reserve showcasing an arboretum, forest hiking trails and a butterfly sanctuary; lodging, guiding and interpretative materials are available. The forest is an undisturbed rainforest. In front of the guesthouse is the butterfly sanctuary, where different butterfly species can be observed. The butterflies are at their best around midday since they do not like moisture. The reserve is ideal for a rainforest walk along the carefully laid paths. Visitors also have the opportunity of identifying different tree species. The forest canopy creates a cool and conducive environment that visitors love.
Adapted from: Umthamo 43, University of Fort Hare Distance Education Project and(Accessed 2008)