Thursday, 6 November 2014

Second open letter to BBC Wildlife Magazine

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

This is my second letter to you in response to your article "Are naturalists an endangered species?" and invitation for more views on this topic. I just wanted to expand and make clearer the points I made in my letter to you (long and short versions). 

Firstly, I am trying to give my views as a 12 year old young conservationist, particularly as one with lots of first hand experience of projects around the world. As I said, older people have valid views too but their experiences are those of at least one generation above mine. A lot changes in 5-10 years in both education and how children and teenagers behave and see the world. I have an older sister who is 24 years old and there is a massive difference between what she was taught and what I have been taught already, at the same school. Also, my niece is in year 2 and has been doing forest school since she was 4 years old. Her experiences and those of her friends are going to be very different to mine.

My niece, Laila Price, enjoying "The Birds of Ecuador"
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Laila Price, enjoying "The Birds of Ecuador"
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Forest school philosophy is to “encourage and inspire individuals through an innovative, long term, educational approach to outdoor play and learning in a woodland environment.” It specifically refers to learning about the natural environment.

Sarah Blackwell from Archimedes Earth, just one company providing forest school training to teachers, and who spoke at the A Focus on Nature (AFON) Conference in September, said

“It’s estimated 6,500 have been trained [in the] Archimedes forest Schools education model [in the UK]. We train between 360 to 500 new practitioners per annum at present.” 

There are no statistics for how many primary schools have already implemented forest school, but this is something I have started to research.

Laila Price holding a baby snake at forest school
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

I am completely committed to children being taught about environmental and conservation issues. However, this is a slightly separate issue (which I write about below) to learning about nature and wildlife, which is what you need to learn about to become a future naturalist, the topic of your article.

I think that we should be working with as many children as possible now, in practical workshops about nature and wildlife, building on what they are learning in forest school if their school is already doing it. We need a network of naturalists to start working alongside the organisations and people already working with young people, like myself.

I do think that children and teenagers will respond better to learning about practical wildlife and nature (together with environmental and conservation issues as an underlying thread) outside of school. This is based on my experiences in school compared to workshops I have run outside of school. These could be through Guides, Scouts, after school clubs, youth clubs, forest schools or workshops anywhere you can access children including in school if there are no alternatives. 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Scouts
Photograph taken by and copyright Helen Hewitt

In your article, you show lots of drawings of young people on electrical gadgets to illustrate the point you rightly make "while technology tempts them [children] to spend every hour indoors, transfixed by screens." I spend time writing my blog and because of the time it takes, usually only post 1-2 times per month. I am not alone and there are lots of young people out there with fantastic nature blogs. However, some of them must also be spending a couple of hours a day on twitter. With the amount of homework we get, I think the pressure to promote ourselves and our ideas on social media is one young people don't need. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have asked Britain's most prolific young tweeters to speak at their AGM in December. Whist this a great opportunity for them, I do think that the BTO and other conservation organisations need to think carefully before encouraging young people to spend time on social media. I think it would be far better to be promoting these young people because of the great blogs, ringing, survey work and other brilliant things they are doing. 

Should twitter be compulsory for young conservationists?

The issue of whether topics related to the environment and conservation have to be taught through addition to the national curriculum

I, like everyone who cares about our planet and the living things on it, want the same thing; much larger numbers of all ages to be naturalists, conservationists and activists/environmentalists all working together to reverse the catastrophe taking place now all over the world. It is good to have people fighting from different angles, as that way we are more likely to succeed.

I believe that as at 2014 the majority of children in primary and secondary school are learning about nature, conservation and the environment. Those who aren’t yet being taught these subjects will be within a few years as forest school expands and these issues become even more prominent. I have covered climate change, pollution, deforestation, and the impact on wildlife as well as wildlife poetry, all by the end of year 7. Teachers are covering these subjects because they feel strongly about them. 

Ashley Loynton, a science teacher in my secondary school, said

“We have a passion for imparting our knowledge and interests on students but this is amplified when they begin to relate and engage with topics. It can be a challenge to convince all of the true relevance of issues you rightly view to be important.”

Primary schools are introducing forest school because they want children to experience nature and wildlife, which they then work alongside in class. For example, I covered things like the Amazon Rainforest (including deforestation, climate change, endangered animals and indigenous people) in primary school. 

Napo Wildlife Centre, Ecuadorian Amazon
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

At the moment, there is flexibility for teachers to cover these essential topics. Although it might seem great to have them added to the national curriculum, there is a chance that less time would actually be given to them, by forcing these subjects and others onto teachers.

The new 2014 curriculum changes started in September, now giving more say to teachers about how to teach subjects. At Key Stage 3, the only relevant change is recycling is added as a topic. For primary schools, in science, there is greater focus on animals, animal habitats, food chains and trees.

Rebecca Chowdhury, a primary school teacher in an inner city school, said,

“Forest schools are amazing. Schools have eco councils, leading their school in educating children about the importance of being responsible for the environment. With organisations and events such as the pod, and 'switch off fortnight' children are actively getting involved in caring about our environment.

My experience is that of an inner city schools, and we take it seriously. We give children experiences that they may not have outside of school, such as trips to the woods and parks.

The curriculum is full of opportunities to learn about environmental issues. Schools have always provided the opportunity to explore and learn about the environment.”

I think that adding these topics to the national curriculum, whether as a stand alone subject or one applied across different key subjects, although in an ideal world would be fantastic, is unrealistic. How are you going to get global warming onto the curriculum when most of our government don’t even believe in it? It’s fine if some people keep campaigning for this and would be fantastic if they succeed in getting even some topics added. Though I prefer to be working with children outside of school now.

Another issue is that the national curriculum only applies to mainstream state community schools. The majority of schools, over 4,500 of them, do not have to follow the curriculum. I think it is far better to talk to all teachers on the importance of these subjects, so that they teach them voluntarily. One approach would be to connect with them at conferences for teachers and head teachers unions, which is one thing I am going to try as a young person.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at AFON Conference a Vision for Nature
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig


  1. Your blog should become part of every school's curriculum; a resource for debate and discussion.
    I have nothing but admiration for your work Mya.Rose and total respect for your thoughts.
    I have shared this blog with some teaching friends of mine and will share their thoughts with you. I hope it helps in your research and cause.

    1. Hi Gary, thanks for your comments and for sharing my post. I am finding that adults seem to block access to children as they think they will not be interested in wildlife (schools, Guides, Scouts etc). All I can do is keep trying.


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