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Eco Rangers: Into the Wild

Setting out to reconnect children with nature, the Eco Rangers programme from Bord na Móna now has a record number of schools taking part

 

With lives that are increasingly driven by technology and children that are spending more time on tablets and laptops and less time outdoors, there has never been a better time to address the issue of a “nature deficit” among our youngsters.

Eco Rangers: Guardians of the Land is a primary school project that hopes to highlight this issue and get pupils around Ireland creatively connecting with nature again.

The project encourages students to take part in Eco Safaris, where pupils map out nature trails in their locality; look at the flora and fauna and take photos or draw pictures of what they see. All the sourced material is documented, recorded and will be uploaded to a brand new website, launching in October.

Bord na Móna launched the Eco Rangers schools programme last year and a record number of 200 schools and more than 20,000 children have participated in the programme to date. It is now in its second year on the primary school education syllabus.

Eco Rangers is facilitated by Real Nation and sets out to reconnect children with nature while teaching them the importance of protecting nature through a series of educational and fun elements.

Teachers are provided with all the tools they need to take part such as teachers’ packs, lesson plans and games. Children are encouraged to creatively connect with nature with each school developing their own bespoke nature table.

Biodiversity

Niamh Costelloe, school teacher with Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Glasheen, Cork, says it’s essential everyone tries their best to conserve biodiversity and that it’s beneficial for children to experience this from a young age. “With this project, children will not only learn how to conserve it, they will also learn about different habitats and ecosystems and recognise the importance of protecting them.”

She explains how Scoil Mhuire gan Smál first got involved in the project. “During the school year 2015-16, Glasheen Boys’ National School green schools committee were working with An Taisce to earn the school’s fifth Green Flag for biodiversity. Bord na Móna sent the school the Eco Rangers resource pack. Eco Rangers was an excellent framework to explore biodiversity. It also enhanced our school science and geography programmes.”

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Nature trails have always been a big focus in our school as we raise environmental awareness and encourage pupils to care for their locality

With all 360 of the school’s pupils taking part, Eco Rangers was adapted to suit all classes, and teachers tailored the programme to suit their own pupils’ interests and abilities.

Costelloe says the fact sheets and activities provided were a bright and colourful way to learn about the environment in the classroom. “Younger pupils went on eco safari in our school grounds where staff and parents have worked hard to create a diverse range of habitats for plants and animals. Older pupils went on eco safari to the local park, The Lough, which is in walking distance of our school. At The Lough, pupils explored a wide range of plant and animal life including trees, lichen, birds and bats. Nature trails have always been a big focus in our school as we raise environmental awareness and encourage pupils to care for their locality. Eco Rangers Safari booklets were a helpful guide for teachers and pupils and could be used to help children explore any habitat.”

Active learning

Gartan national school in Donegal also participated in the programme and principal teacher Caroline Carey says the programme supports active learning. “Pupils really enjoy finding out more about the world around them. They enjoy spotting and noting seasonal changes in the hedgerow and woodlands,” she says. A small local school with just 19 students, active lessons in the local environment are already very much part of her school’s culture, she adds.

While it can be difficult finding the time and safe space for children to explore nature, Costelloe hopes that Eco Rangers will go some way towards addressing this.

“There are fantastic resources available for children online and in books but nothing can substitute the benefits of free play in nature. I hope that using programmes like Eco Rangers in school will encourage pupils to discover nature in their free time with their families and friends. Now is a crucial time for environmental awareness and it is essential that children develop a love of nature for their own development and for the benefit of our environment.”

Local environment

Carey says her students are lucky as many of them are very familiar with the biodiversity within their local environment.

“Our parent body are also very supportive of learning more about nature and pupils bring many items to school that they have found on walks with their parents – for example birds’ nests, shells, leaves and nuts. We have an advantage in that we have instant access to woodland, lake and hedgerow habitats. Urban schools do not have those resources but can make use of local parks and set up nature habitats within their school grounds.”

Through the Eco Rangers programmes we’re able to get down to a grass roots level by encouraging children to reconnect with nature and recognise the importance of protecting our land.

Commenting on the initiative, Sara Byrne, who is corporate brand manager at Bord na Móna, said: “At Bord na Móna, our ethos focuses on being more naturally driven to provide a sustainable future and through the Eco Rangers programmes we’re able to get down to a grass roots level by encouraging children to reconnect with nature and recognise the importance of protecting our land. It’s essential that we all try our best to conserve resources and through Eco Rangers children will not only learn how to conserve it but they will also learn about different habitats and ecosystems and recognise the importance of protecting them to eventually become ‘Guardians of the Land’. We’re delighted to say that while the emphasis is on schools to participate in Eco Rangers, the programme can also be used by the children with their families in their local communities around Ireland.”

Costelloe says the programme was a huge success among her students. “The pupils were thrilled by the challenge of going outside with a clipboard and pen. They worked in teams to complete the Eco Safari and it was fantastic to see pupils explore their interest in nature and science.”

Guardians of the Land

Eco Rangers: Guardians of the Land, a primary school project that aims to get pupils around Ireland creatively connecting with nature. Our increasingly technology-driven lifestyles are leaving us short on the benefits to be had from nature and the great outdoors. There’s a proven link between time outdoors and wellbeing, particularly for children. Teachers have long been commenting on this.

So it’s time to get out of the classroom with the Eco Ranger’s school programme and use active learning with your pupils to discover, learn and connect with nature. Aimed at pupils from junior infants to sixth class, it’s a great way to learn interesting things about nature in Ireland and feed into an online resource.

It is essential that we all try our best to conserve biodiversity and with this project, children will not only learn how to conserve it, they will also learn about different habitats and ecosystems and recognise the importance of protecting them to eventually become Guardians of the Land. The project also encourages schools to start tackling the nature deficit disorder in children and gets pupils out of the classroom and reconnecting with nature.

An Eco Rangers dedicated website will launch in October 2017 and will be unique as it will be populated by the work of the children using their indigenous knowledge of their local nature trails. In the long term, the website will be something that could be accessed and shared with parents and the wider school community.


For more see bordnamona.ie