Last summer trustees for Monkton Nature Reserve had to make the painful decision to notify five paid staff of redundancy due to the continued closure forced by the pandemic.
But now positive steps are being made towards a reopening with the rehiring of two staff and a partnership with Foreland Fields School to work with students at the reserve twice a week.
Other work behind the scenes has included linking up with Ramsgate photographer Rebecca Douglas, completing a four year ecological management plan for the reserve and teaming up with the Wild Classroom group to offer activities centred around outdoor cooking.
Dr Clive Nuttman has been hired to manage the site and reopening and Tom Plastow, from Westgate, has been hired as the seasonal education officer. As one of the site’s previous staff, Tom plans to use his knowledge to further open up the reserve for people living with autism and disabilities.
Tom, 27, lives with autism and also has fibromyalgia. He studied conservation at Hadlow College and now uses this knowledge to help educate young people about the reserve.
He wants the reserve to be all inclusive and also hopes to encourage more girls to take roles in ecology and biology.
Tom, who is stepdad to two-year-old Beatrice, said: “Only around a quarter of STEM jobs are occupied by women, and I’m keen in my role as Seasonal Education Officer to encourage more girls to enter the fields of ecology and biology.
“I want to help change the perception that environmental studies and STEM are inaccessible for women. I want my step-daughter to grow up in a world where there are no barriers based on gender or race.”
The nature reserve opens up from April 19 for schools which can book an educational visit for their students.
The link with Foreland Fields School also involves some of their older students being given the opportunity for work experience at the site.
Tom said: “The students of Foreland Fields School will be coming to the reserve twice a week for the next year. This is a change in direction for our education department and something that I have been working towards for a couple of years.
“The school specialises in additional needs students, including autistic children. I myself am autistic and really want more autistic and disabled people to enjoy and learn about nature.
“We also have several of their older students coming in for work experience. Only around a fifth of autistic adults are employed and I want to help change that by giving more opportunities to autistic people and breaking down stereotypes.”
Another exciting partnership is with Wild Classroom, a group which teaches outdoor cooking. The team behind Wild Classroom are members at the reserve.
Groups can book to come to the reserve and carry out a wildlife activity, such as pond dipping, and then learn how to make a meal – and then eat it.
Tom said: “We are really excited about this partnership and would love an opportunity to let the community know about this as it is something brand new and unique to Thanet’s visitor economy.”
Another new addition is the link with photographer Rebecca Douglas.
Tom said: “As part of the International Women’s Day’s theme of #ChooseToChallenge, Rebecca decided to give away free hours of her photography work. She has offered us two free hours a month for the foreseeable future.”
Tom and Clive have been funded in their roles by charitable grants. Maintenance at Monkton Nature Reserve has been carried out throughout the pandemic by dedicated volunteers.
The reserve is also due to offer some bookable ‘member only’ days for access to the outdoor areas.
It is hoped the reserve will be able to reopen to the general public after June 21.
The 16 acre wildlife oasis off Canterbury Road, Monkton, is managed by not for profit charity the Thanet Countryside Trust.
The Reserve is in an old chalk quarry, last excavated in 1958. It was rescued from becoming a county council rubbish tip in 1985 on the condition that it became a nature reserve and study centre. The Trust was particularly anxious to protect one of the last natural assets on Thanet because, apart, from the coastal cliffs and seashore there are very few areas of natural habitat left on the island.
It is a haven for wildlife and also has family activities, a picnic area, education programmes and hosts the Monkton Stargazers.
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Monkton Nature Reserve