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Education Ranger Tom Bean on the 'River Trip'

Hear the story of the ever popular National Park River Trip...

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority offers a wide range of education opportunities, helping school pupils learn about and engage with the natural and built heritage and culture across the National Park.

Almost every day of the year, Rangers and National Park Centre staff are adapting their stories and resources to engage and focus pupils of all ages, abilities and for changes in the curriculum.

One of the oldest stories is fondly referred to in the National Park Authority’s Discovery Team as the River Trip.

Following the Afon Syfynwy from source to mouth, the compelling tale threads through the landscape both shaping the hills and valleys, as well as responding to the atmosphere, habitat and human land-use.

Meeting a school group at the top of Bwlch Gwynt is a reminder that that water is all around us in Pembrokeshire. On a good day we can see ourselves surrounded by it on three sides.
Meeting a school group at the top of Bwlch Gwynt is a reminder that that water is all around us in Pembrokeshire. On a good day we can see ourselves surrounded by it on three sides.

St Brides Bay and the islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm to the south west, Cardigan Bay to the north and perhaps even a hint of the Llyn and Snowdonia. If we are lucky then we are in a cloud, intercepting and feeling keenly the water cycle in action on our cooled and perhaps dampened faces.

We soon discover that although the bluestone-dotted Preseli Hills are magnificent, the ground beneath our feet is not so firm. With half the group with eyes shut, the other half jump up and down on the surface of the peat bog, sending wobbles up through our legs.

We learn the value of vegetation and how here, the sphagnum moss holds back the floodwater. Taking care to avoid hungry carnivorous plants, we explore in search of the first trickle of a channel before seeing it tumble away. Now we can begin to trace the path of the stream in the valley below and beyond to reservoirs, wooded valleys, flood plains and the distant estuary and port – can you see the chimneys? And so our trip is mapped out in front of us.

The focus of the expedition will vary according to who the pupils are; a GCSE Geography teacher will have a new specification fieldwork theme to explore, perhaps flows, cycles or places; a primary school will maybe look at exploring habitats or measuring the wild and variable river channel.

A-level Biology or Geography students might be asking their own formulated questions about how the river system works. The Ranger will work closely with the teacher to plan exact locations and activities to guide the pupils in their learning.
The Ranger will work closely with the teacher to plan exact locations and activities to guide the pupils in their learning.

A-level Biology or Geography students might be asking their own formulated questions about how the river system works. The day rolls on quickly through the mid-Pembrokeshire countryside. We stop for lunch, probably at Llys y Fran, and think about the water needs of people and the grand impact on the landscape of a dam and reservoir.

By the time we stand at the confluence of the Syfynwy with the Eastern Cleddau below the winding narrow bridge at Gelli, the children have seen a trickle turn into a tumbling brook and now a meandering river. This powerful channel cuts its own path leaving distinct landforms that we’ll never forget now we have seen them and stood on them – the flood plain, river cliff, levee, and slip-off slope.

Here we say “so long” to the Syfynwy and the school bus. Following the river is a singular and exciting journey that schools come back to us to experience time and again. The river is a natural and dynamic educational resource, linking and shaping our National Park while offering learning for pupils of all ages and stages.

As with many roles across the National Park Authority, Rangers work with precious and conserved natural resources, while adapting their use and understanding to the changing needs of people accessing and enjoying them.


National Park Ranger Blog
Published 25/09/2017



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