Connecting wetland centres across the world

How to keep working under COVID-19

A look at what WLI members are doing to engage the public and maintain their organisational work while acting to stop the novel coronavirus.

WLI members in China have been working from home since February; in mid-March, Europe and North America members reached a similar stage.

CEPA

Some visitor centres, such as those in France, are shutting completely. The Maison du Lac de Grand Lieu is closed, meaning the public-facing efforts are all now online: they are still producing social media and website updates. They are also hoping to hold group meetings by Skype with other Francophone wetland centre staff and schoolteachers in the East Atlantic Flyway.

Urdaibai Bird Center in the Basque Country has also shut its doors and taken to the internet. Edorta Unamuno is going into the locked visitor centre to use the technology there: he speaks ‘down-the-line’ to Basque Public Radio about local nature. They have also innovated a new practice with their existing webcam. It livestreams on YouTube and people have been tuning-in for ‘ten minutes of calm’. Now, twice a day, Edorta is adding his commentary, to bring context and his birding passion to the images people at home can see. He adds his voiceover live at 10.00 and 18.00 local time.

Not all organisations are closing their visitor centres. In countries that are not on full lockdown, visitor centres are offering the public a chance to benefit from all that nature brings at a time of stress.

WWT in the UK is keeping centres open, where there is safe staffing levels, and making sure visitors know to practice social distancing and to keep washing their hands. They have cancelled all talks and guided events. The Learning teams have been reminding schools of the materials already freely available for them to download, which they designed for use in schools before and after visiting a WWT centre.

Fort Whyte Alive in Canada has closed the buildings but is leaving the gates to the site open for people to visit free of charge.

Environment for the Americas is reaching families with email and online storytime. Using the GoToWebinar platform, they are sharing links to colouring-in sheets of hummingbirds, and then reading the book ‘If Hummingbirds Could Hum’.

China is perhaps the most advanced in changing their behaviour, now about 60 days into isolation. MCF’s visitor and education centres are closed, but social media continues. After initially helping people cope with the new living situation, social media output has reconnected back to biodiversity and wetlands. In particular they are coordinating with other conservation groups to campaign about the root of the COVID-19 outbreak: wildlife trade and farming for food. The Chinese government announced a temporary ban on selling live wild animals in markets, and MCF and partners want to raise awareness of the problem and change people’s behaviour. The key message is to no longer see the animals as food or threats, but as positive and normal parts of our shared ecosystem.

Regular office work

MCF’s educators are using this as an opportunity to refresh their course content, their evaluation and assessment materials, and year plans. They are also working with colleagues to update their own knowledge about the species they encounter in their visitor centres and reserves. This way they will have up-to-date signage and exhibits ready when the centres re-open.

The WLI team at WWT is working from home, using Skype for Business for internal contact, a VPN for file sharing, and regular Skype for meetings with partners around the world. Maison du Lac de Grand Lieu are finding Microsoft Team a very helpful tool, and they continue to plan future exhibitions. MCF were just wrapping up strategic planning when the restrictions came into place so they were able to work from home to develop detailed workplans out of the higher-level strategy.

What about you? If you develop other methods, let us know!

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The WLI network is endorsed by the Ramsar Convention on wetlands and coordinated by WWT.

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