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The University of Southampton
Mathematics and Science Learning Centre

The Wonder of Nature project at Mottisfont

A view down the river
The river at Mottisfont

We want to encourage more of the people who visit Mottisfont to become more engaged with the nature on the site which is set within acres of beautiful countryside. It is known that connecting with nature can engender enthusiasm (even passion!), commitment, loyalty, a sense of belonging, and can have a profound effect on people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Why are we doing this?

The project seeks to prove that visitors’ engagement can be increased as a result of refining existing educational practice. We already know that the volunteer guides, indoors and outdoors, are highly successful in engaging visitors, so we’re using their existing experience and best practice to test whether it can be improved even further. If this proves possible, the whole package of existing and new best practice will be tested at another NT site which wishes to introduce Outdoor Guides for the first time.   

This project is of regional and national importance to the National Trust with its current priority on people and nature.  The NT is investing funding, matched by the university, to test a model for engagement which has the potential to be rolled out at other properties which lack an existing experienced cohort of volunteer guides.

How are we doing it?

The Wonder of Nature project is an evidence-based means to achieve these positive outcomes. Mottisfont is working with the Education School at the University of Southampton to identify tried and tested ways of getting people engaged and where there is good evidence to show that they work. The project works with the National Trust’s Pathways to Nature approach, which focuses exclusively on emotional connection with nature. The Wonder of Nature broadens this by also including ways to learn about nature, which are both informative and stimulating.  
An essential component of the Wonder of Nature is to ensure that the project team works closely with the Outdoor Guides and Rangers, as well as with regular visitors and local nature experts. 

What’s the new approach?

Based on the evidence of existing success outlined above, and to achieve our goals most effectively, we are developing three main products:

Guided  ‘Discovering Nature’ walk
This ‘entry-level’ guided activity is for visitors who have little or no knowledge about nature. It is designed to provide consistency in delivery techniques for everyone to allow evaluation of the results, whilst promoting the individual passion and knowledge of the guides. It will be jointly designed and delivered by the project team and the Outdoor Guides, with input from the Rangers. It will focus on particular ‘hotspots’ (locations of key interest to visitors, such as the font and the Great Plane tree), and at each hotspot there will be ways to promote key environmental messages (provided by Rangers) and incorporate a ‘call for action’ encouraging visitors to engage in nature-related activities. The hotspots can then be linked together to construct walks according to the interests of the visitors and the guides. The walk will use a ‘toolkit’ of tried and tested educational approaches, such as:

More information about the guided walks can be found HERE.

Self-guided ‘Discovering Nature’ walk
This will be based on the hotspots design described above. This could be paper-based or digital (or both).

 ‘Mottisfont Nature Community’
A new community suitable for anyone with a common interest in nature at Mottisfont (Outdoor Guides, Rangers, regular visitors, people with some local knowledge and expertise, etc.). This will provide the opportunity to share and build our experiences and knowledge, and the project team will support face-to-face meetings and an online discussion group. We hope that people who took part in the ‘Discovering Nature’ guided and self-guided walks will join the group.  The University will analyse the group activity to demonstrate the impact of the project. In the longer term, the Mottisfont Nature Community will become self-sustaining as individual members encourage each other to keep building on each other’s knowledge and experiences relating to the site.

Get in touch

Please feel free to contact Professor Marcus Grace (, Professor Janice Griffiths ( or Dr Carys Hughes ( anytime to discuss your thoughts or questions about the Wonder of Nature project.



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