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Developing skills for the future through the National Education Nature Park

Logo: National Education Nature Park and Climate Action Awards

By Laura Jacklin, Communications Manager (National Education Nature Park), at the Natural History Museum

Young students gathered around a tray of sample water from a pond dipping session
Identifying finds from pond dipping (Trustees of the Natural History Museum, Department for Education © The Trustees of The Natural History Museum, London / Department for Education)

In our rapidly changing world, the need for green and digital skills for future careers is ever more pressing. The UK has a STEM and green skills shortage – there is currently a gap of around 200,000 green energy workers in the UK, a significant digital skills gap and the demand for green roles is expected to continue to grow across the world. Addressing this shortage is crucial in charting a course towards a promising future for both humanity and the planet.

Last autumn, we and our partners including the Royal Horticultural Society launched the National Education Nature Park, a free programme for schools, nurseries and colleges which helps address this challenge. We are empowering young people to make a positive difference to both their own and nature’s future; they lead the way in creating a network of green spaces across the English education estate, boosting biodiversity while connecting to nature and developing the green and digital skills that are vital to their futures.

Young students outdoors in a school field doing some nature observations with a teacher
Observing school field (Trustees of the Natural History Museum, Department for Education © The Trustees of The Natural History Museum, London / Department for Education)

Grey to green

Young students using tablets to identify trees and elements in nature
Using digital tools to explore nature (Trustees of the Natural History Museum, Department for Education © The Trustees of The Natural History Museum, London / Department for Education)

When a place of education joins, they add themselves to the Nature Park Map before following a five-step cycle that sees learners get to know their outdoor space, identify opportunities and make a plan for boosting nature, before putting that plan into action and monitoring the difference that has been made for nature through biodiversity surveys. For example, pupils at St Philip’s CofE Primary School in Greater Manchester surveyed their grounds and decided they wanted to bring more nature into their concrete playground, making plans to build a green wall in the spring to enhance this space for both wildlife and the school community. Green walls are just one ‘grey to green’ improvement pupils can choose from depending on what they identify as being best for their space; other interventions range from growing pollinator-friendly plants and creating rain gardens to planting trees and digging ponds.

Developing green and digital skills

A suite of free high-quality, curriculum-linked resources, support and guidance accompany the programme to help educators put nature at the heart of education and develop six key green skills in their learners:

  • Identification and ecology
  • Recording data
  • Interpreting data
  • Creative thinking and decision making
  • Environmental stewardship and horticulture
  • Communication

   
Focussing on development of these skills, which are broadly applicable across career pathways, facilitates participation of children and young people with a wide range of interests and recognises that many job roles that today’s young people may hold in the future do not yet exist. All Nature Park resources indicate which green skills they are linked to, making it straightforward for educators and learners to see which skills are developing. In addition, there is a selection of resources specifically linked to the topic of careers. While showcasing opportunities that very directly contribute to protecting and restoring the environment, the programme also aims to highlight that pathways to support the environment can be found within almost any career or role a young person may hold in the future; all jobs will need to be green jobs as sustainability will need to be factored into everything we do in our work and daily lives.

Young students with magnifying glasses gathered around a water drain
Finding nature in unexpected places (Trustees of the Natural History Museum, Department for Education © The Trustees of The Natural History Museum, London / Department for Education)

Small acts, big impacts

The digital tools that young people use on their Nature Park journey are a key component of the programme. Using digital tools from Esri UK, young people are collecting data from their learning sites – this information is collated in a nationwide database and displayed on a national map, showing the collective difference being made for nature. Every small act makes an impact, and the national map demonstrates to learners how they have the power to make a difference when they all work together.

Through the development of essential green and digital skills, alongside fostering wellbeing through connection to nature, we are helping pave a way for educators to empower a generation capable of making a lasting impact on the health of our planet. As part of the Department for Education’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy, all schools, nurseries and colleges in England are eligible to join. To find out more, access the free resource library, and register your education setting, head to www.educationnaturepark.org.uk

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Posted On: 29/02/2024

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