A pioneering initiative will enable young people to improve biodiversity in their communities.
The National Education Nature Park will be a network of outdoor spaces in schools, nurseries and colleges across England, run by a partnership led by the Natural History Museum and also involving the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH). Eligible places of education will be invited to apply for grants to carry out improvements such as creating pollinator-friendly habitats or planting trees and vegetation that are resilient to climate change
The scheme, which is particularly targeted at the most deprived and nature depleted areas of the country, is being backed by £15 million in funding from the Department for Education.
It will give young people the skills to plan, carry out and monitor improvements to the natural spaces in their places of education. This includes training them in the use of digital mapping software which will allow them to share and explore the results via an app to understand the various impacts of different environments on plant and animal species.
UKCEH is contributing expert advice on species monitoring and methodology within the scheme to enable young people to measure the positive difference they are making to nature by recording any changes in species abundance, for example.
UKCEH ecologist Dr Michael Pocock says: “There are widespread declines among many plant and animal species both in the UK and globally, so getting young people involved in protecting and enhancing nature is essential if we are going to tackle the current biodiversity crisis. This fantastic new scheme will empower them to make a real difference in their communities.
“Furthermore, a wealth of evidence including our own research shows that connecting with nature improves people’s wellbeing. Given the rise in mental health concerns for young people, the chance to observe and record wildlife, and then take action for nature through this scheme, is particularly valuable.”
The National Education Nature Park partnership is led by the Natural History Museum with the Royal Horticultural Society, supported by the Royal Geographical Society, Manchester Metropolitan University, Learning Through Landscapes, UKCEH and the National Biodiversity Network Trust.
Some 40 education settings in the North West and West Midlands are testing and helping develop the National Education Nature Park scheme, which will open to nurseries, schools and colleges across England later this year.