Over the Easter holidays, I helped with an event called ‘Oxfordshire Goes Wild’, organised by the Oxford Museum of Natural History in conjunction with Wild Oxfordshire. The purpose of the event was to invite families to discover and explore Oxfordshire’s reptiles, insects, amphibians, birds and mammals with the aid of wildlife groups running various interactive workshops throughout the Museum.
During the event, the Museum was a hub of activity with families making crafts such as bug hotels and Red Kites’ nests to highlight the importance of conservation. I had the privilege of running the owl pellet dissection workshop. I showed families how to examine the contents of an owl pellet to see what it had been eating. Many of the children who participated in the workshop got really stuck into it (on the other hand, the adults tended to be more squeamish) and marvelled at the clumps of fur, tiny bones and skull fragments that made up the pellets. A diagram and key was on hand to help participants investigate what small mammal the owl had eaten; was it a shrew, mouse or mole? One boy managed to find three shrew skulls in one pellet, indicating that the owl was an especially good hunter!
What was particularly inspiring and memorable about the event was seeing real living breathing animals in the Museum. Amongst the Museum’s animal skeletons and taxidermy specimens, families could handle snails, slow worms and a grass snake and meet different species of bat. Down in the Museum’s Annex, more living animals could be found such as rescued owls and two baby crocodiles from Crocodiles of the World. It was brilliant that families were able to get up really close to these beautiful creatures and learn more about their life in the wild through touching and handling them and having conversations with the wildlife groups who had specialist knowledge.
The event was immensely popular and helped me to understand and appreciate that the more successful and rewarding Museums events, are those which have a clear and tangible connection to the Museum’s collections. For instance, after handling a grass snake, you could see the delicate skeleton of a snake on display in the Museum. Similarly, following the dissection of a Barn Owl pellet, you could find and touch the Barn Owl specimen close by and admire how its anatomy explains its prowess as a hunter. It is this is what makes museum learning a uniquely different experience to learning within the classroom.