Thematic Trails

About Thematic Trails.

Thematic Trails specialises in the publication of guides and walking companions that encourage the appreciation of valued environments or landscapes.

Serious interpretation is often only possible with professional knowledge or with the use of academic literature that is not readily available to the general public or even to many teachers. Thematic Trails sets out to publish short walks where an inquisitive interpretation of the landscape being examined (rural or urban) becomes an engrossing element of each walk. Walks combine clear directions with a straightforward commentary designed to be stimulating, offering observations and explanation of the theme being explored and written in a form suitable for interested non-specialists as well as being a useful introduction to an area for those with a more specialist interest who may use the guides as a basis for a deeper or more formal examination of the themes introduced. The overarching 'educational' strategy is to place the participant in the role of interpreter early in each walk. However, if we had a motto it would be 'encourage topophilia' (love of landscape).

Educational workbooks.

When the registered educational charity, Thematic Trails, was founded by two teachers (Peter and Janet Keene) in 1985, one very practical way to encourage an increased understanding and appreciation of the environment was by providing teacher-led field study groups with supportive literature. Much of this was in the form of work-books or trails which could be completed by students in the field at their own pace. The absence of the immediate presence of a member of staff was seen as an educational advantage. A sequence of booklets followed. The first ones, written by Peter and Janet Keene on the Westward Ho! area, served as models which encouraged interested colleagues and like-minded educationalists to adopt a similar approach. These trails were predominately discipline (theme) orientated and principally written with schools and colleges in mind. The series soon won several national awards including the Carnegie Award, for what were seen as effective and innovative fieldwork tools.

Towards a public audience.

The unexpected success of these booklets amongst interested non-specialist adults, encouraged us to extend the target audience and modify the approach to include adults, in the communities local to the sites served by each booklet, and to include the inquisitive visitor (tourists?) – in reality ‘students’ of any age either in formal education or as self-paced ‘autonomous learners’. The challenge has been to embrace the interests of a less subject or discipline-orientated audience approach without sacrificing the depth of interpretation needed to gain some understanding of the processes which control the development of a landscape whether urban or rural. Today 90% of our sales are from on-site outlets local to sites, including museums, Tourist Information Centres and shops. The main audience at these locations is, by report, the inquisitive visitor, the local community and teachers.

The original idea of assessing the impact of publications by including wholesale and retail marketing as part of our remit has been retained and gives us a close relationship with those who buy booklets. It has also meant that we are able to offer a website shop window to like-minded publications which we can carry in our catalogue. At present, of the 215 books/booklets on our website catalogue, 50 have been published by Thematic Trails whilst the other 165 books have either been written by ourselves for other publishers or appear on our website by invitation and recommendation.

The long-term objective of Thematic Trails remains to encourage an increased awareness and empathy for the environment. This interest, we believe, not only enriches the lives of individuals, but is also socially desirable in developing a body of opinion aware of the needs of conservation and management in a wide variety of settings both urban and rural. We wish to make clear environmental interpretation available at a level that allows the non-specialist to make an informed contribution to local environmental debates.

A sense of place.

There are clearly advantages in a subject approach when attempting to encourage the depth of study that might be provided by a focus of one discipline. However, there are benefits in encouraging people to deconstruct the rigid structures which formal education has imposed upon us. A more holistic approach draws attention to the way things within the environment are interconnected. Thus, when attempting to engender an appreciation of a locality or an attachment to place, there is merit in feeling able to respond to whatever stimulus might be provided from the environment, including being open to all our senses. All these enrich our experience and, arguably, can be an advantage in participating in environmental debate.

Thematic Trails is a not-for-profit, registered, educational charity.

(Charity registration number 801188)

Thematic Trails Trustees.

PETER KEENE Fellow of Oxford Brookes University, Chair of Trustees and Editor

Dr JANET KEENE Retired researcher at University of Oxford. Treasurer and Secretary.

PETER SIMS School of Geography, University of Plymouth.

Professor DEREK ELSOM Dean, Social Sciences and Law, Oxford Brookes University.