Youngsters’ wild photography project

Round & About

Nature discovery centre

Exhibition of work by teenagers and children who have discovered a shared talent for wildlife photography on a BBOWT course.

The Youth Nature Photography Project was run by Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) at the charity’s Nature Discovery Centre (NDC) in Thatcham.

Now the budding snappers are holding an exhibition of their pictures at the centre this half term.

The youngsters on the course all have challenging personal circumstances, ranging from health conditions such as autism and anxiety to being in the care system or coming from a low-income family.

The course was designed to give them opportunities and learn skills they otherwise might not have discovered, and children and parents have said the effect was transformative.

Chris Harrison, whose nine-year-old daughter Sophia joined the course, said: “Thank you so much for including Sophia on the course, it’s given her so much more confidence and drive to get out of her comfort zone and explore the outside. It’s been great to see the transformation. I’m so proud of her for what she’s produced and her interest isn’t showing any sign of waning. Thank you for everything you taught her as well as giving her the opportunity. She’s loved it and it’s still all she wants to talk about.”

Gia Gomes’s15-year-old son Caleb also joined the course, she said: “Thanks so much for the opportunity. He’s really enjoyed it and learnt a lot and he loves the camera. He really wants you to know that he’s appreciated everyone’s time and input.”

The project was led by BBOWT officer Emma Gray and had three aims: improve participants’ wellbeing, teach them new skills and foster a new connection to the natural world.

Studies have shown that spending time in nature can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce anxiety, and improve mood. The Wildlife Trust also encourages all people to spend time in nature to build a sense of connection that can inspire action for wildlife and climate.

The photography workshops at the NDC were led by professional photographer Toni Cross and the young students used professional-quality cameras supplied by BBOWT which they have been allowed to take home on a long-term loan to keep practicing. The whole project was funded by the Robert Pilgrim Photographic Trust.

Commenting on the success of the course, Emma said: “This has been such a rewarding project to work on. All the participants came with various challenges in their lives but they have engaged brilliantly with all of the workshops and it has been fantastic to see how much they have developed. As well as improving their photography skills and connecting with nature, they have all increased in confidence and developed skills such as listening and patience.

“During one session they were practising their fieldcraft skills, getting down low and moving slowly and quietly so as not to disturb the wildlife they were trying to photograph. They crawled into a thick mass of bushes to try to get a good shot of a deer, and were doing such a good job of being still and quiet that at one point I thought I had lost them all! In another session, one of the participants brought her therapy dog River along so they could practise getting shots of a moving animal. They all had a lot of fun doing this, but I don’t think any of us expected she would run so fast.”

The Youth Nature Photography Project Exhibition will open in the visitor centre at the NDC on Saturday, 21st October, with a small ceremony at 11am, and will run to the following Saturday. The centre is open every day in half term 10am to 5pm. Full details at

New look for Nature Discovery Centre

Karen Neville

Nature discovery centre

Nature Discovery Centre reopens after £125,000 revamp just in time for Christmas

Berkshire’s beloved Nature Discovery Centre has reopened after a £125,000 refurbishment. The revamp has created an open-plan layout for the popular cafe and shop, new educational table displays and a wildlife-themed children’s play corner.

The icing on the cake is a brand new ‘hide in the sky’ on the first floor of the centre in Thatcham. A viewing station overlooking the wildlife lake where visitors can use a telescope and binoculars to spy on all the wild goings-on below.

The café is also serving a new warming winter menu and new products in the shop. Including locally produced honey, Fairtrade chocolate, local art and jewellery and a host of Christmas cards, decorations and gifts. The renovations were commissioned by Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). Which manages the site and funded by a grant of £125,000 from site owner West Berkshire Council.

Steve Johnson, NDC’s manager, said: “We’re so excited to show everyone all our new features. This is the biggest refurbishment we’ve had in years. It makes the whole centre a more welcoming, easy-to-use space for all our visitors.

“The NDC is now the perfect place to go for a family day out this winter. Take a bracing walk around our wildlife lake, come and have a hot pastry or panini, take a hot chocolate up to the hide in the sky, then pick up a few Christmas gifts while you’re here! Huge thanks to West Berkshire Council for the funding.”

Councillor Steve Ardagh-Walter, Executive Member for Environment and Transformation at West Berkshire Council, said: “We’re delighted to help BBOWT deliver this important improvement to the Discovery Centre with a grant.

“Ensuring our residents can be closer to nature is an objective of the council’s Environment Strategy, which this investment achieves. The Nature Discovery Centre is a key educational and wellbeing asset. I would encourage all our residents to visit and enjoy.”

As well as improvements indoors, the centre team have also put up several new interpretation boards in the grounds, telling visitors about things to do around the site and upcoming events.

A host of new welcome signs also include an innovative three-dimensional wooden ‘Nature’ sign on an exterior wall which is filled with bits of wood and other natural materials, which solitary bees and other insects can nest in.

Inside, a new wall-mounted screen is showing specially commissioned drone footage and other videos of animals and plants around the site. So visitors can admire the diverse wildlife even on the rainiest days. The Wildlife Trust is confident that all the new features will encourage more people to visit the NDC and help teach all visitors young and old, about wonderful local wildlife.