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New GCSE a natural addition to curriculum, writes Erin McDaid, of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

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Many of us who care passionately about the natural world and efforts to save it have been celebrating the announcement of a new GCSE in natural history.

Natural history is a subject that can enrich our lives and help us tackle the biggest issues of the day — the nature and climate crisis — before its too late.

It is vital that young people have opportunities to learn about and be inspired by nature. (56323429)
It is vital that young people have opportunities to learn about and be inspired by nature. (56323429)

To create a greener, brighter future for us all we must ensure that young people have the opportunities and knowledge to become future leaders and decision-makers who care about, and understand, that healthy, thriving eco-systems are central to the survival of our planet and our prosperity.

What we choose to teach in our schools has a major role to play in ensuring we succeed.

With the addition of the new GCSE, more pupils than ever before will have chance to develop a rounded, in-depth knowledge of nature.

We must find ways to counter the disconnect with nature that many young people experience between the ages of 11 and 30. (56323430)
We must find ways to counter the disconnect with nature that many young people experience between the ages of 11 and 30. (56323430)

Classroom-based studies will hopefully be supported by real-world experience of animals, plants and insects and The Wildlife Trusts are very much looking forward to continuing our work as part of the Strategic Advisory Group for the GCSE, which will be available from 2025 onwards.

After a decade of campaigning for this, we must recognise the efforts and determination of naturalist Mary Colwell.

Mary has tirelessly led the charge for this new subject to be introduced and she deserves credit, as do the many that have campaigned alongside her, including the public who signed petitions or wrote to their MPs.

Young people who choose to study natural history will hopefully fall deeper in love with nature and this new option could be a stepping stone to a life-long connection with the natural world.

It could inspire a new generation of naturalists, conservationists and scientists and for many it could lead to exciting and rewarding careers.

But, to prepare a generation of new decision-makers right across society, all children must have knowledge of wildlife, natural systems and our reliance on them — not just those with an existing curiosity or passion.

On its own this new subject will not be enough to close the nature connectedness gap in our society, but it is absolutely a step in the right direction.

Research by the University of Derby has identified that from the age 11, young people’s connection to nature drops sharply and doesn’t recover until they are 30. We cannot afford this gap at such a critical time in young people’s lives.

To make matters worse, children’s interaction with nature is declining.

With 60% of young people spending less time outdoors since the start of the pandemic, it is vital that all children have the chance to spend at least an hour a day learning outside. Opportunities for outdoor learning will be essential for the new GCSE and schools must be able to access the resources needed to get out into the natural world.

The new subject mustn’t be restricted to desk-based studies and we must ensure schools in inner cities and other deprived areas less likely to have access to greenspaces are not prevented from running this GCSE creatively and effectively due to lack of funding.

Families living in urban areas already have less opportunity to access and connect with nature and children from these families have as much right to access to this new subject as children living elsewhere.

We must ensure children of all ages have opportunities to learn about nature and how our amazing yet fragile planet functions.

We can’t leave it until pupils reach GCSE age and, for those choosing their options, we must ensure the value of this subject is made clear — adding it as an option is a positive step, but it will fail to make a difference if children don’t feel inclined to choose it. This gap comes at a crucial time in young people’s lives when they are preparing for and making plans for the future and we must do everything we can to close it — and the new GCSE can only help.

After a decade of campaigning across the sector we welcome the new subject, but to deliver the scale of societal change required to head-off the worst of the climate and nature emergencies, this must be part of an education system that puts nature and outdoor learning right at the heart of the curriculum for all pupils, of all ages, and, wherever they happen to live.

l Our work across Nottinghamshire is supported by a network of dedicated local members’ groups who organise activities such as walks and talks, help raise awareness of our campaigns and help us care for our wonderful nature reserves.

The Newark group will host a fascinating talk by Anna Louise Pickering ­—Travels With A Wildlife Artist ­— on Thursday, May 5, 7.30pm, at Newark Library

Anna will share stories of her life working with wildlife artist Pollyanna Pickering — from being presented with an orphan bear as a 21st birthday present to taking buckets of toads to a TV studio.

Book in advance with Sue Leach on 01636 922096 or leachsueng24@gmail.com

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