The wind and the willow
Douglas Blane went to the launch at a primary school that provides a shining example of varied habitats for flora and fauna
With its wilderness garden, wildlife pond and frequent lessons out in the playground, Inveraray Primary is a school that has its head in the curriculum but its feet firmly in the local environment.
This made it an ideal place for Rhona Brankin, the deputy environment minister, to launch the latest module of the Eco Schools handbook, on biodiversity and global footprints (which measure how much we damage the world: a giant footprint is bad).
"We start talking about biodiversity with the wee ones," says Anne Paterson, the headteacher. "It lets us do some really rich science, language and art work.
"Recently we've been doing a topic on homes, so we have been looking at all the habitats in our grounds. There are mini-beasts in the log pile and in the willow den. Our apple trees have lots of ladybirds. Our hedge has shot up in the past year and has birds living in it. And this summer our pond was home to the most amazing, beautiful, big green dragonflies and damselflies."
Biodiversity is not just for rural schools surrounded by wildlife. The module explains: "Where you start will very much depend on your situation.
What are your school grounds like: tarmac, mown grass or expansive and varied? What is your local area like?"
In line with the Scottish Executive's framework for action on biodiversity, every region in Scotland has a local biodiversity action plan and many have an officer dedicated to its implementation. This is where schools, whatever their location, should begin learning about their local environment, explains the module, as well as with the Countryside Rangers and Scottish Natural Heritage.
"Find out about your local area, what's out there: common or endangered, what was there and could be there. Investigate the old and new statistical accounts for Scotland and find out about common plants and animals recorded for your parish. Get involved in doing some conservation, from a window box to a woodland," says the module.
Biodiversity is vital to the future of the planet, says Kate Campbell, the manager of Eco Schools Scotland. "At a local level many of our most important industries rely on having rich plant and animal life."
As well as case studies and sections on what biodiversity is and why it matters, the module contains a thorough, open-ended strategy for tackling biodiversity in schools. Beginning with discussions and activities to introduce the ideas and assess pupils' prior learning, this continues through planning and executing a survey of the "natural neighbours", evaluating the evidence, developing an action plan, monitoring progress and celebrating the school's achievements.
The section on ecological footprints explains how a school can calculate its total impact on the environment by carrying out inventories of waste, energy, water, transport, food and buildings. Having done so, a school can make plans to reduce it.
The flexible approach of the module appeals to Ms Paterson. "It doesn't say every school has to do exactly the same thing. Like all Eco School modules, you can adapt it to your area and to what is really important to your school," she says. "We've found it very easy to build into our improvement plan and to form clear links across the curriculum."
The seven other topics in the Eco Schools handbook are litter, waste minimisation, energy, water, transport, health and well-being and school grounds.
"Young people are very receptive to Eco Schools," says Ms Campbell. "They really care about the impact people are having on the environment.
"They are much more switched on than most adults and want to do something about it."
Scotland is well on its way to achieving the target set by Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, of 80 per cent of schools on the Eco Schools programme by 2008. "With 2042 primary, secondary, nursery and special schools already registered, we are likely to get there by next year, well ahead of time," says Ms Campbell.
For more information on Eco Schools and the biodiversity module, contact Kate Campbell, tel 01786 468234