“I think owls naturally demand respect,” says Tonya Knights. “Most people, both children and adults, are in awe of them.”
Tonya is the founder of Hoot With Me, an educational social enterprise that encourages people to nurture nature. Operating throughout Norfolk and Suffolk, the self-funded organisation delivers multi-sensory workshops about wildlife and the environment to people of all ages, from pre-school children to college students to community groups. Tonya is also part of the team at the Happisburgh Owls centre in Norwich, and the Hoot with Me sessions will often include an appearance from one or two of the birds.
“We are all about education and conservation,” says Tonya. “Taking the owls along helps people, especially children, to understand why they need to look after the environment.”
The workshops for younger audiences will include reading stories, creating artwork, and role-playing, inspiring young minds to imagine what it’s like to be an owl.
“We try to capture the children’s attention,” Tonya explains. “They make owl eyes, and pretend to be the birds. We don’t allow touching of the owls, unless someone is blind or partially sighted, but we take along feathers so they can experience what an owl feels like.”
Since setting up the project in 2017, Tonya and her small team has been going into schools and colleges on a regular basis. For adults and older students, the workshops cover more information about the owls themselves, and the larger environmental picture.
“All the sessions are bespoke, so it always depends on what the objective of the lesson is. When a group is older, we may focus on the physiology of the owl, or look at the wider eco-system. We also discuss concerns regarding the environment, such as the decline in hedgehog numbers, or the repercussions of not replacing trees.”
As facts and figures about the environment increasingly become a part of public discourse, Tonya is keen to continue motivating others to treat the natural world with respect.
“I think society’s focus is now more on money than wildlife and nature, and that has had knock-on effects for the environment,” she says. “That’s why we encourage people to nurture nature, and not destroy it.
“We get lots of lovely feedback,” she continues. “School teachers tell us how much their children have learnt. Even if just one child takes something away from our lessons, then we’ve made a really positive impact.”
If you would like to book Hoot with Me or find out more, go to www.hootwithme.co.uk
By Theo Hooper