During lockdown, many of us grew to appreciate the outdoors a great deal more. In many ways, nature is becoming even more relevant in our lives, and it is being maintained by organisations such as the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. A program ran by SWT is Young Wardens, in which teenagers carry out conservation tasks, teaching them valuable skills and contributing to the upkeep of reserves. I have reached out to Emily Reddick, Visitor Engagement and Experience Officer at SWT, to understand why Young Wardens is so important.

“Young Wardens provides a safe and inclusive environment for teenagers to come, spend time in nature, have an active part in nature conservation and to also meet likeminded teens” says Reddick. Tasks undertaken by the group include clearing paths, cleaning hides, and improving sightlines across the reserve. Reddick also says that the Young Wardens play a bigger role “than they probably realise”, and that the helping hand provided by the group can improve visitor experience.

In addition to helping the reserve, Young Wardens can have a positive impact on mental health as it “significantly reduces cortisol (also known as the stress hormone)”, which is linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Reddick outlines the different skills learned at Young Wardens- safe tool use, “so they can safely use these tools in the future”, identification skills, where the group can learn about potential dangers of plants, and communication skills, for teens to “work with each other and keep each other safe”. Not only do these skills greatly improve performance at Young Wardens, they also can be used in school or working life.

However, Young Wardens is one of only a few schemes ran to teach these skills. Reddick states, “Many teens will choose to spend their day in their rooms, on their computer games, however I believe they would benefit from getting out and learning these skills”. A growing problem among teenagers, screens can prevent them from getting outdoors and learning the skills taught by Young Wardens. Reddick also believes that part of the issue is not wide enough availability of such schemes, saying that many “people I speak to say they wish they had a group like young wardens when they were growing up”. Many people do not even know that Young Wardens exists.

Young Wardens has a multitude of positive impacts- it improves visits to the reserve, mental health, and teaches teenagers valuable skills. You can sign up via the Suffolk Wildlife Trust website, or check your local wildlife trust for similar opportunities in different counties.