Thanks to a new collaboration between the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), the Natural History Museum (NHM) and the government, children are learning about biodiversity and nature in schools and they may even get new green spaces in the playground.
The plan is for students to map biodiversity in their schools and add it to a national database, and for teachers to be supported in developing curriculum-based resources for climate education and lesson plans.
Schools without green space could be eligible for funding to create one for students to study.
The exact amount of funding has not yet been agreed, but a spokesman for the Ministry of Education said there are opportunities for a mix of government funding and corporate sponsorship.
Clare Matterson, the director general of the RHS, recently left her post at the NHM to join the horticultural organisation.
She told The Guardian: “The National Parks for Education will be open to all schools in England and we will work hard with our partners to ensure that accessibility is at the heart of everything and that schools are given the support they say they need.
“This includes working with the Department of Education to explore grant funding opportunities. We know from our existing work that for many children the school garden is their only point of contact with nature, and we want to make sure it provides a stimulating and meaningful space for learning and skills development.”
There will also be a new reward system for schools that are particularly creative in teaching their students about biodiversity.
Matterson explained: “Schools will be invited to map, monitor and take action to improve biodiversity on their school grounds using a range of online resources and hands-on support, as well as a new rewards system that will recognize work done and celebrate. Consider creating a pollinator corridor, creating a pond or planting hedges over fences to help reduce flooding on the school grounds.”
NHM scientists will work with schools to create a biodiversity map of these green spaces and analyze the data collected by students.
“As part of the project we will be mapping the biodiversity on the school grounds across England,” she said: “An area twice the size of Birmingham, it is likely to be home to all kinds of plants, insects, birds and mammals.
“Our partner, the NHM, is a leader in biodiversity research, with scientists working on projects to understand how human activities have changed biodiversity and developing tools to measure this change. This expertise will be used together with geospatial mapping partner Esri to enable schools to monitor and map the biodiversity gain in their nature parks.”
But ultimately, creating green spaces in schools goes beyond lesson plans and capturing wildlife.
It would be important for those schools that don’t have existing green space to be supported in creating them, she said.
“It’s an experience rather than a lesson to learn – whether you’re sitting in a green space taking a moment to experience the sights, smells and sounds of nature, getting your hands dirty planting seeds or a pond dips.
“At the RHS, we are redoubled our efforts to help children grow for people and the planet – expanding our school grant program as part of the RHS school gardening campaign, increasing educational visits to our gardens, engaging students in our hands-on science research, and hosting our first children’s picnic at the RHS Chelsea flower show next year. We cannot afford to leave this group behind.”