Children will learn about biodiversity and nature in schools, and perhaps get new green spaces in the playground, thanks to a new collaboration between the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), the Natural History Museum (NHM) and the Government.
The plan is for students to map the biodiversity in their schools and add it to a nationwide database, as well as support teachers to develop curriculum-based climate education resources and lesson plans.
Schools without green space may be eligible for funding to create some for students to study.
The exact amount of funding has yet to be agreed, but a Department for Education spokesperson said there would be 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 horticulture organisation.
She told the Guardian: “The National Education Nature Parks 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 it and that schools get the support they say they need.
“This includes working with the Department of Education to explore opportunities for grant funding. 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 ensure that it provides a stimulating and meaningful space for learning and skills development .”
There will also be a new award scheme available to schools that are particularly creative in teaching students about biodiversity.
Matterson explained: “Schools will be invited to map, monitor and take action to improve biodiversity on their school property using a range of online resources and practical support, as well as a new awards scheme which will recognize and celebrate the work being done. This could include creating a pollinator corridor, installing a pond or planting hedges over fences to reduce flooding on school grounds.”
Researchers from NHM will work with schools to help create a biodiversity map across these green areas, and analyze the data collected by students.
“As part of the project we will be mapping biodiversity on school property across England,” she said: “An area twice the size of Birmingham is likely to be home to all sorts of plants, insects, birds and mammals.
“Our partner, NHM, is a leader in biodiversity research, with researchers working on projects to understand how human activity has changed biodiversity and developing tools to measure this change. This expertise will be put to use with geospatial mapping partner Esri, to enable schools to monitor and map biodiversity gains in their nature parks.”
But ultimately, creating green spaces in schools goes beyond lesson plans and recording wildlife.
It will be important for those schools that do not have existing green areas to get support to create them, she said.
“It’s an experience rather than a lesson to be learned – whether it’s sitting in a green space and taking a moment to experience the sights, smells and sounds of nature, getting dirty to plant seeds or taking a dip in the pond.
“At RHS we are redoubling our efforts to make children grow for people and the planet – expanding our grant program for schools as part of the RHS School Gardening Campaign, increasing educational visits to our gardens, involving students in our hands-on science research, and being hosting our first children’s picnic at next year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. We can’t afford to leave this group.”