School Biodiversity Project: Connecting Students with Nature

Guest Blog by: Howard Elston
(an inspiring School Teacher who is currently working on an amazing sustainable home development project)

“If children don’t know the natural environment, then how can they care about it?”  Hearing this question at a teachers’ Sustainable Living conference grabbed my attention.  What did the students at my Melbourne suburban school know about the natural world?  Why should they care about places unfamiliar to them if there was no emotional attachment?  Responding to questions like these led to me starting the Year 5 & 6 Biodiversity Project.

To begin, I needed a place with natural features outside the school grounds.  Luckily, my school was within walking distance of a bushland reserve running along a small creek.  It offered an ideal location for an outdoor classroom where students could safely roam in a slightly wild setting.

The City Council kindly agreed to allocate a section of the reserve to the school.  With guidance from Council staff, students would provide the labour necessary to maintain and improve this area.

Picture 1
Bushland reserve near the school

In consultation with an indigenous nursery, students decided the best way to make a difference was to remove weeds from the bushland and plant a variety of indigenous seedlings (ground covers, shrubs and trees).  Each Term, the students spent an afternoon at the reserve, working on “their part” and observing what had changed since the last visit.

Spreading mulch was a good way of preventing weeds from reappearing and creating the right conditions for native plants to propagate.  Everyone had a chance to get their hands dirty!

Picture 2
Hundreds of seedlings were planted to thicken up the bushland

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Over the years since the project has been running, I have observed the growing connection between these students and their local environment.  As one student said to me, “I like the way you can see we’re making a difference.  This is a fun way to do something about climate change.”   Council representatives also commented on the gradual change.  They could see the students’ care and attention paying off with a steady improvement in the bushland setting.

Once the project was established, the ideas for making other connections flowed thick and fast.  I discovered many people in the local community who were eager to assist with educating students about the natural world.

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Highlights for the students included:

  • Learning how to care for the plants and animals in the creek with the assistance of specialists from Melbourne Water.
  • Studying the mini-beasts which lived in the bushland under the guidance of a biologist.
  • Listening to an Aboriginal elder explain the First Australians’ perspective on caring for country while sitting in a place that the students cared about.
  • Getting to know the native bird species with expert guidance from volunteer bird watchers. Students then built and installed duck nesting boxes near the creek so the ducks could thrive.
  • Sharing their experiences of caring for the local environment at an Australian conference of school children with similar passions and interests.

I am optimistic the experience has helped successive classes make a connection with the natural environment. If, as they grow to young adults, they feel empowered to take action on environmental concerns, then I have succeeded.  They truly do care.

Meet my guest blogger, Howard Elston and his wife Libby 🙂

Libby and Howard
Libby and Howard

This wonderful piece was kindly shared by Howard giving us a chance to learn more about such an awesome biodiversity project. After reading this, my curiosity peaked. I started wondering about all the other projects out there working to create this precious connection between kids and our natural environment. At present, Howard and Libby are working on a sustainable home development project. Equipped with their enthusiasm and ‘stop thinking, start doing’ attitude, they have embarked on an adventure to explore various options and build units which are kinder to our planet. Follow their adventure here.

Photo Credits:
All photos within text: Howard Elston
Header:  Theophilos via / CC BY-NC-ND

To Sir David Attenborough With Love

sir-david-attenboroughI have not met many people who don’t know about this great man. Many of us affectionately love Sir David Attenborough and shared numerous on-screen magic moments as he opened our hearts and mind to all the wild wonders of this world.

My first encounter with that familiar voice came from ‘Echo of the Elephants’, one of my all time favourite documentaries about elephants. At that stage, I too had no clue who he was except for the fact that he had a very nice voice. Since then, I have never escaped his grip as I encountered each different documentary teaching me things I never knew, making me care about things which I would have never thought about and taught me that this world is so much more than what we allow ourselves to see every day.

When I first decided to embark on a crazy journey to throw everything away and dedicate my life to wildlife conservation, naturally, Sir Attenborough was a big influence. Somehow I wanted him to know that he has been an integral part of my decision and I wanted him to be proud of me. This man had no clue who I was, where I came from or how on earth did I look like. Why would he care? Did that stop me? No way.

I started searching high and low for a way to write to him. I finally found an address to post fan mails and decided to take the risk to pour out my heart on paper. I sat down and wrote this 5 page letter (front to back) and excitedly sent it on its way.

To be honest, after posting the letter I was not expecting anything in return. I guess all I wanted was to write to him and tell him how important he was to me. Two weeks later, the big moment arrived.

Three days prior to this big moment, I had just received my confirmation to start my Masters course in Wildlife Management and Population Management accompanied with very strict conditions. With no prior science degree, I was nervous and started doubting my decision. I was to study in a class full of younger and highly talented Biology and Veterinary students. All I had was my love and determination to play a part in saving our wildlife in any small way I could. With a heavy heart and three weeks to go before I started my class, I found this airmail envelope with three UK marked stamps waiting in my mailbox. Although I had no idea what it could be, instinctively something told me that I needed to sit down to open this. So, I ran home and locked myself in my room.

When I finally opened the envelope, I found a beautiful piece of heavy set paper. I unfolded this slowly only to see Sir David Attenborough’s address on the header accompanied with four sentences written in black ink with a signature which temporarily stopped my heartbeat. I did not scream, I did not feel excited but I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of love and quiet happiness. This moment will stay with me forever. Words cannot describe how special it was. This letter traveled everywhere with me for two years. In my hardest moments, I held it and reminded myself that I was going to be OK and it helped me pull through my two years of studies.

I have written a few more letters to him since then, but with no further replies until this crazy moment. I had just started my career and started feeling so lost in the conservation world experiencing the brunt of not finding paid employment and constantly exposed to competition. It was hard. I felt I needed to talk to somebody and get some guidance, like a mentor. So I came up with a brilliant idea to write to my favourite man to ask if he would be my mentor. I know, what was I thinking right?

The moment I posted the letter, the impossibility of my actions daunted on me. I remember standing in front of the red post box and laughing to myself thinking…I cannot believe I just did that! I was even embarrassed. Did I just write to one of the most famous man in the world and asked him if he would be my mentor?

Lo and behold, three weeks later I got a reply from Sir David Attenborough politely declining my request. In that letter, he humbly stated that he was primarily a filmmaker and believes he would not have made a suitable mentor for me. At this point, my love for him doubled. He could have simply ignored my request as I am sure he receives so many similar requests. But he did not, he wrote back.

There are so many reasons why I love this man so much and I always will have a very special place for him in my life and my heart. My deepest regret is that I have never seen him in person. Every time he came to Australia for an event, I was too broke to afford the ticket. To this day, this is something which makes me very sad. But I will always have these two letters to keep close to my heart as my journey continues to make this world a better place for wildlife. Now, all I need is a khaki coloured pants and a light blue shirt.

Photo Credit:
Main Page - JrScientist via / CC BY
Header - diana_robinson via /CC BY-ND