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Blog post Part of special issue: Education and the climate crisis: A curriculum for sustainability

Putting climate and biodiversity at the heart of education: A National Education Nature Park approach

Amy Strachan, Lecturer in Curriculum and Pedagogy at University of the Sunshine Coast

Education is central to addressing climate change (UN, 2023), but it is often left to science and geography. Recent research (Monroe et al., 2019; Rousell & Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, 2020) identifies that formal education primarily focuses on the causes and impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss, with a particular over-emphasis on scientific knowledge. This can be overwhelming and can affect the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children and young people (Lawrance et al., 2022). When different aspects of climate change and biodiversity loss are taught discretely within subject silos, a ‘confusing and disjointed narrative’ can be presented (BSA Future Forum, 2023, p. 8). A scientific understanding of these issues does not necessarily translate into pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours (Brownlee et al., 2013).

As identified by the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (2023, p. 7), ‘a broad, pluralistic approach to education’ is required to support learners in responding to the climate and ecological crises we face. Pihkala’s (2020) research has shown that taking action, and in particular while working together with other people, can help avoid anxiety and the feelings of being overwhelmed. The National Education Nature Park in England is a programme designed to support educators in their design and implementation of an embedded climate change education, aligned with the national curriculum. It enables learners to transform knowledge about climate change and biodiversity loss into action, empowering them to respond positively to these issues.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time and is directly linked to the equally devastating biodiversity crisis (State of Nature, 2023). Recognising that solutions to these issues are interdependent, the National Education Nature Park has a vision for every young person in education to have opportunities to develop a meaningful connection to nature, to understand the concepts of biodiversity loss and climate change, and to feel able to do something about them.

‘With the area of England’s primary and secondary schools equating to roughly more than double the size of Birmingham, change across the education estate can make a real difference, and show young people that, by working collectively, climate and biodiversity challenges can be addressed.’

The nature park programme aims to ensure that every young person in England (from early years foundation stage to further education) has opportunities to take action for nature, develop green skills for their future and contribute directly to nature recovery and climate resilience. Resources and activities are carefully designed to support children and young people to become agents of change, enabling them to identify and implement interventions to enhance and protect nature in their school grounds, from building rain gardens to growing pollinator-friendly plants. Education settings across England are becoming part of a vast network of nurseries, schools and colleges that form the National Education Nature Park. With the area of England’s primary and secondary schools equating to roughly more than double the size of Birmingham, change across the education estate can make a real difference, and show young people that, by working collectively, climate and biodiversity challenges can be addressed.

The nature park process

The nature park promotes an interdisciplinary approach to climate and biodiversity education, acknowledging the unique role of a wide range of subject disciplines, preparing learners as agents of change, who will grow to draw on their broad knowledge and skill set to act collectively to solve pressing environmental issues.

The National Education Nature Park process enables learners to take an evidence-led approach and to boost nature on their learning sites through a five-step process:

  1. Get to know their school environment and collecting data.
  2. Identify and research opportunities to take action for nature.
  3. Work together to make decisions about which opportunities to pursue.
  4. Plan and undertake a course of action designed to address an issue and make a positive difference to nature.
  5. See and record the change they have made, reflecting, evaluating and sharing the impact.

Figure 1. Five step process

The nature park website provides a range of resources designed to be easy for teachers to embed in their school’s curriculum. This continually growing and improving library of resources supports learners to know about climate change, biodiversity issues, solutions and actions on a local, national and international level and across a broad range of subjects. Threaded through the curriculum resources and nature park programme, activities have been chosen carefully to encourage accurate and up-to-date scientific knowledge, community cohesion, responsibility for people and the planet, and an emphasis on listening to and acting for people’s different needs and backgrounds. These resources will help to support curriculum leaders to develop and enrich ambitious school curricula (Ofsted, 2023), rather than being bolt-ons.  

A key component of the nature park programme is to ensure learners draw on different perspectives by gathering relevant information, critically evaluating evidence, and exploring issues and ideas for change. Taking emotions into account (Ojala, 2023), learners develop an awareness of how they and others feel about current and future climate and biodiversity issues, responding positively through making change together. Through this process, we aim to help learners develop resilience and optimism for the future, supporting their mental health and emotional wellbeing (Lawrance et al., 2022) and developing a positive connection with nature.