To celebrate 30 years of WLI, we are profiling some of the key people who have made the network a success. Ben Hren was one of the founding members of the network, at the Wildfowl Trust of North America.
As a sustainability educator, providing transformative learning opportunities is the holy grail of professional practice. But recognising a transformative learning experience is not typically possible in the moment. As a young adult learner, I was fortunate to have had a number of important transformative experiences, but it is only now as a mature practitioner that I can reflect on how these shaped my life path.
As a university student and then early in my career, I had the unique opportunity to study and work at U.S.-based institutions modelled after the work that Sir Peter Scott was pioneering at Slimbridge.
The first of these, The Hiram College Biological Station, featured a research-focused waterfowl collection that rivalled any zoo.
The second, The Wildfowl Trust of North America, occupied an island in the Chesapeake Bay and blended wetland conservation with environmental education, ecological research and public recreation. As part of my professional development I had the opportunity to visit Slimbridge and shadow Sir Peter as he went about his morning routine on the grounds and in his studio. In 1991, I found myself as a member of the founding group of Wetland Link International, surrounded by educators similarly committed to helping others find their purpose as caring contributors to a world where all of nature flourished – including humans.
As I reflect on those experiences, I recognise the power that wetlands and their charismatic inhabitants have to inspire awe, wonder and altruism. But I also recognise the power of the interactions I had with conservation and education leaders who had a profound sense of purpose, and the passion and generosity to share it with others. Learning for sustainability is a social process and depends as much on connection to the natural world as it does on connections to passionate and generous role-models.
For me, the best way to honour these life-changing experiences has been to share my passion for nature and sustainability as generously as possible. And so, with humility and optimism, more than 40 years into my career and 30 years after my WLI experience, I am still designing and leading learning expeditions into wetlands – the wadis and mangroves of the UAE at the moment. You never know when that transformational moment will occur, so it’s best to carry on.