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Calling all conservationists: Help deliver next generation of nature enthusiasts

Logo: University of Reading

By Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez, Head of the School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences at the University of Reading, and creator of the Climate Ambassador Scheme

The impacts of July’s record-breaking temperatures and wildfires in the UK will not have been felt much more keenly than by those in environmental roles.

scene of a tree and field with a raging wildfire in the background, burning flames with black smoke rising
(Pexels)

As 40-degree heat scorched parts of the country, wildlife and countryside professionals faced the unenviable task of mitigating the damage to parks, habitats and biodiversity, and of counting the inevitable costs.

A sound understanding of the natural world has always been a must for professionals in these sectors, but having some knowledge of climate change as a string to that bow has never been more important as we adapt to a warming planet.

It was with this challenge in mind that we at the University of Reading set up a new Climate Ambassadors Scheme this summer. Run through the STEM Learning online platform, it matches environmental experts with schools and colleges to help teachers equip young people with climate knowledge and skills for future careers.

The scheme is aimed at increasing understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change among young people and providing teachers with top quality information and practical tips.

a child stands in an outdoor space holding a pencil and a tree identification worksheet with houses in the backgroud
Pupil featured in an online course run by the University of Reading, aimed at primary school teachers wanting to use the outdoors to teach children about nature and climate (Courtesy of Teaching Climate and Sustainability in Primary Schools online FutureLearn course)

Registered schools can submit specific task requests which are then delivered by one of the army of ambassadors signed up the Scheme, who are expected to commit just one or two days a year.

That means teachers of all subjects, from history to economics, getting access to the very latest climate science from world-leading scientists, or governors being advised by wildlife experts on how to make their school grounds more environmentally friendly or stand up to extreme weather.

This is a simply incredible resource that has never been available to teachers and young people until now.

a group of students wearing winter coats & hats wak through Alice Holt Forest
Students on a field trip to Alice Holt Forest (University of Reading)

The Scheme is supported by UKRI and the Department for Education, whose recent sustainability and climate change strategy refers directly to the National Action Plan the University developed with partners, which includes the Ambassadors Scheme.

The Action Plan was created to address the fact that climate change and biodiversity loss are topics that young people are desperate to learn about. Surveys of teachers by climate education campaign group Teach the Future have shown that 9 out of 10 teachers agree that climate change should be compulsory in schools, yet only 3 out of 10 feel equipped to teach it.

Included in the Department for Education’s strategy was the announcement of a new Natural History GCSE. Moves like this are welcome and demonstrate the importance being attached to knowledge of the natural world at government level.

Our Scheme enables immediate support that does not require lengthy curriculum reform. We hope it will instil a sustainable outlook in young people, not only preparing them to handle future challenges resulting from climate change but arming them with knowledge so they can help create solutions.

image of the roots of a fallen tree which lies on the ground besides the leaves of a green bush
(Pexels)

Anyone who works in an environmental role is eligible to sign up as an ambassador. More than 70 Climate Ambassadors have signed up so far, and we need to add conservationists to the ranks.

Organisations can help by making their staff aware of the Scheme and encouraging them to sign up. Building the small amount of time ambassadors must commit into annual rotas would make a massive difference in providing the required support to schools.

In a similar way to the teacher training on climate change made possible by the Climate Ambassador Scheme and Action Plan, it is important companies and organisations in the environmental sector also train their workers to handle the unprecedented climate challenges we are seeing more and more frequently.

It is clear that climate change is here, and here to stay.

Almost on a daily basis we are seeing evidence of the consequences of a rapidly warming planet. This year alone in the UK we have faced one of the strongest storms in a generation in Eunice in February, which tore down more than 150 trees in London’s Royal Parks. As never-before-seen temperatures arrived in July, wildlife charities issued public pleas to care for animals like birds and insects in their gardens.

The world, particularly countries like the UK, is just not set up to deal with extreme heat, storms and floods. And it never will be unless something changes.

To anyone reading this who works in one of these roles, I ask you to think about one thing you wish you’d known before the July heatwave that would have helped you better deal with its impacts.

We can make a massive difference to the world by passing on these many pieces of information and advice to young people in classrooms now, to inspire them to take up these jobs and perform them with confidence.

The world is changing, therefore the way we teach young people about the world must also change. Environmental sector workers can play a big part in that.

Sign up for the Climate Ambassadors Scheme at stem.org.uk/climate-ambassadors

Logo: Climate Ambassadors Scheme

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Posted On: 28/07/2022

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