Capturing nature through the lens

Working in our Lochgilphead office, Caroline Anderson has been co-ordinating the Snapberry project since 2009 engaging young people with nature through photography. Here she describes how this exciting project has flourished.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in Snapberry at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Snapberry was born as a result of a staff team-building session in 2009 at Taynish National Nature Reserve (NNR). Lorne Gill, the SNH Videographer, encouraged us to look at nature a bit differently – to look for patterns, colours, textures and shapes – and I wondered if the same model would appeal to young people, a group who are traditionally hard to encourage outdoors.

I approached the local high school with a proposition to get involved in the project. Seeing the obvious connection with all aspects of the curriculum, the high school greeted the idea with enthusiasm. The school selected pupils with a range of interests and abilities. For SNH, and the project team, it was really important that there should be no academic barriers. Indeed, the pupils didn’t even need to have their own cameras!

A date was agreed and around a dozen teenagers appeared at the SNH Lochgilphead office for a briefing delivered by Lorne before we headed off to Taynish NNR.   As the doors of the mini bus opened and the pupils spilled out amidst the excitement of being free for the day, it very soon became apparent that they had embraced the challenge. During the day, Lorne moved between them, checking their progress and providing encouragement and knowledge where needed.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in Snapberry at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

At the end of the school day, the pupils were delivered back to the school and Lorne was faced with the momentous, but interesting task of checking all the captured images before the pupils’ return to the office the following day for a feedback session.  We were very pleasantly surprised by the results, and so were the pupils.  The students decided that their images were worthy of an exhibition and the name Snapberry was invented!  That first year the pupils raised over £1000 for charity from the sale of their images to friends, family and members of the public.

Over the years the original model has been built on, including the name. We have had Snapberry Cubed, Snapberry Goes Fourth, even Snapberry Eight My Camera. We have projected the images outdoors, 30-foot high during the busiest night in the Lochgilphead calendar; held several exhibitions under the Artmap Open Studio banner; been featured on BBC Alba; worked with Rob Mulholland the sculptor; been joined for the day by Mike Russell MSP; and received a Highly Commended at the Nature of Scotland Awards. Since that first day out with the pupils in 2009 over 150 pupils have participated in the Snapberry project.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in Snapberry at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNHSubsequently, some of the pupils gained specialist work experience with SNH; several of the pupils who participated went on to work in the environmental sector; and a few went on to volunteer with us. There is one boy who stands out amongst all the rest, a boy who, we were told, may not participate due to his autism.  We were warned that he would be uncommunicative and may prefer to draw his subjects in isolation to everyone else rather than photograph them.  On the day, to the amazement of the teaching staff, the boy interacted with his peers in a way never seen before and produced some beautiful images. This same boy went on to become a reserve volunteer albeit with support from the school.

Like everything, it hasn’t all been successful, but we have adapted and learned as we’ve gone along. We tried using sites other than Taynish NNR: one year we went to Dunadd Hill, Moine Mhor NNR and Crinan Ferry but the logistics and risks at all of these sites prompted our return to Taynish where the Mill track provides all the different habitats in a safe environment and gives plenty of photo opportunities.

We tried rolling it out to other schools to participate in the same model. These days went well: the pupils were enthusiastic and the sites chosen full of photographic opportunities. However, we found that this didn’t work as well as it had with Lochgilphead and concluded that this was due to lack of buy-in and encouragement from teachers.

Like all projects, there are pros and cons in abundance, requiring careful management. The project can be run with no financial cost, using only staff time and buy-in from the schools. It requires no academic ability on the part of the pupils; they don’t even need their own cameras.  It does take quite a lot of organisation, assessing the risks, tailoring to the particular needs of the pupils, and colleague support from the reserve staff, particularly Gordon Campbell and Lorne Gill.  And of course support and enthusiasm from the teaching staff.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in Snapberry at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Over the years this project has brought a whole new audience to the reserve. It has, for some, introduced them to a new talent they previously didn’t know they had. It has kindled an interest in nature for others; and it has allowed teaching staff to see their pupils in a new light.

There is no reason this project could not be tailored for schools in other areas, different groups of people, the elderly, those with mental or physical health disabilities – the camera is a wonderful tool to allow people to view things differently, focus in on the detail, capture a unique moment and most of all appreciate the wonder of nature all around us.

Why don’t you come and visit us at Taynish NNR and bring along your camera!

All images ©Lorne Gill/SNHYear of Young People 2018 stamp


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