Working scientifically to boost playground biodiversity
Project update by Stuart Ritchie, Earth Trust Education Manager
In September, we embarked on our exciting Inspiring Future Green Leaders project, to cultivate environmental stewardship in our future generations.
Thanks to funding from the Brickability Group Foundation Trust, we hope to reach 450 children who may otherwise have limited access to green spaces, engaging them in real-world STEM learning and forging strong connections between these young minds and the natural world. We aim to light a spark of wonder, curiosity, and – we hope – inspire them to see themselves as leaders who can make a real difference for our shared future.
Our first 240 ‘Green Leader’ trainees hailing from four schools in Reading – EP Collier Primary, Caversham Primary, Coley Primary and Caversham Park Primary – have now completed their introductory visit to Earth Trust for the first phase of the programme.
Discoveries, exploration and experiments
On their visits to Earth Trust, discoveries awaited around every corner. The children experimented with insulation made of straw, measuring how this simple material is being used to conserve energy. They explored how trees can be planted around our buildings to keep them cool and prevent flooding. Exploring our kitchen garden, they found frogs, toads, and beneficial insects thriving amongst the crops.
In our Brilliant Biodiversity session, the children were tasked with surveying the gardens surrounding Earth Lab. Working scientifically, they recorded everything they found along their 30 metre transect (a methodology used by biologists around the world).
The students marvelled at the brightly coloured vegetables, each pulling their own carrot straight from the soil to great excitement. Spotting a wide range of insects got them discussing creative ways to boost biodiversity back at their schools.
Evaluating our impact
Before each school visits us, we ask every child to complete a questionnaire to gauge their current connection with nature and sustainability.
This allows us to understand clearly how the young people feel about the state of the natural world, whether they feel part of it, and if they enjoy learning about it in school and at home.
We’ve now had the first 210 surveys back, giving us an insight into how the children currently feel. We’ll be asking them the same questions again later in the programme, so that we can see how their perspectives and feelings change as they get more involved.
46% said they love spending time in natural spaces
85% want to see more wildlife areas or food growing at their school
98% said they enjoy learning about the planet and wildlife
40% said they hadn’t thought about doing a ‘planet friendly’ job when they are older
Highlights from the Caversham Primary Year 5 pre-visit survey
During their visits the children have been working on their scientific enquiry skills, exploring real things in a real environment. Some of the things the children identified are:
- Earth Lab’s natural straw insulation does a pretty good job! It’s not quite as efficient at keeping heat in as artificial insulation, but the environmental trade-off is worth it.
- Our new kitchen garden is the most biodiverse space at the Earth Trust Centre. The children recorded a range of pollinators, predatory invertebrates, frogs and toads living amongst the delicious crops.
- We should have more grass and wildflowers, hedges, trees and shrubs around our homes and schools to tackle the effects of climate change. Plants keep these spaces cooler in summer and generally more stable year round.
- Crown Prince provided the most efficient use of limited food growing space out of all the pumpkin and squash varieties grown in our pumpkin patch this year. More efficient farming = more space for nature.
Thank you so much for such a great day last week.
The children really enjoyed themselves and it was great to see them so engaged all day.
Joanna Alexander, Year 5 Teacher, Caversham Primary School
Whole school reach
Armed with the experiences and discoveries from their time at Earth Trust, our Green Leaders will now embark on their own school sustainability projects. They will work on their ideas over the winter months, before our Education team visits them, to work with the entire school to implement their green space improvements.
They may create wildlife habitats, grow food to share, or find other innovative ways to tackle climate challenges in their communities. We can’t wait to see the projects that emerge next term as these students make their ideas a reality.
Creating a network for positive change
This is only the beginning. As these children return to their schools, families, and neighbourhoods, our goal is that their passion, knowledge and critical thinking skills ripple outwards. By supporting action and leadership at the local level, we hope to build a broad network of engaged citizens across Reading and nurture a lifelong love of nature and community in the environmental leaders of tomorrow.
Stay tuned for regular updates on the growth and impact of these inspiring Future Green Leaders.