Life

Tony Bailie's Take on Nature: Advocating for the environment

Belfast climate activist and Ulster Wildlife Youth Advocate Anna Kernahan (18)

MY USUAL time for a walk into the mountains is early morning. In previous days I would have had them to myself, only seeing others starting their treks when I was on my way back down. But over the past year that has changed and I am no longer the only early bird; in fact, I am more often than not distinctly tardy when compared to other walkers.

What has also been particularly apparent is that the age demographic has also shifted, with many more young people taking to the open air.

It is also noticeable that the age of some of the world's most prominent climate change activists has also shifted dramatically downwards, with a tangible frustration that commitments towards action are constantly being kicked down the line… commitments to achieve this goal by 2030 and that one by 2050.

Lockdowns have brought home to many how precious our outdoor spaces are as they bring huge psychological relief in challenging times. Hopefully one of the benefits of this global pandemic will be a global raising of consciousness about our natural environment and the climate crisis.

Ulster Wildlife is tapping into this energy and has is working with ‘youth advocates' to ensure the connections with nature that were nourished during the past 12 months are not lost. It also hopes to encourage teachers to take their lessons outside the traditional classroom environment and to spend more time learning in and about nature.

According to Ulster Wildlife, evidence shows that the benefits of outdoor learning include improved health and wellbeing, decreased stress levels, a positive impact on behaviour and increases connections with the environment. It also points out that outdoor learning is an ideal setting for enhanced ventilation.

Ulster Wildlife Youth Advocates have created a series of video resources highlighting the benefits of outdoor learning, methods to overcome commonly perceived barriers and advice for subject-specific curriculum integration.

Anna Kernahan (18), a climate activist and writer from Belfast, founder of Fridays for Future NI, Amnesty International Bravery Award winner and Youth Advocate, said: “We want to continue raising awareness and education about outdoor learning, highlighting the benefits increased engagement would bring for children, young people and teachers. It is a key way to develop peoples' care for the environment surrounding us, and enriches a student's education.”

And Frances Logan, who is a final year student at Queen's University Belfast, vice-president of the United Nations Association at Queen's, UK Youth Ambassador for the ONE Campaign and Youth Advocate, said: “We appreciate that lost classroom time is a concern for many parents, teachers and indeed students.

“However, we feel that this is a crucial time to be delivering a message of positivity about outdoor learning. In order to reduce the strain on education professionals, we have developed a series of online resources in a simple tutorial style, in an effort to remove any stress and provide a template.”

Ulster Wildlife is engaged with the Our Bright Future project, a partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, which aims to bring together the youth and environmental sectors.

Dawn Miskelly, director of development and engagement at Ulster Wildlife, said the youth advocates are acting as catalysts for delivering change for the environment and community, and contributing to a greener economy.

“We are keen to meet with Education Minister Peter Weir to discuss outdoor learning recommendations for schools but stress that this should not be limited to consideration in the short term. We hope to see an ongoing commitment that will continue to benefit the youth in our society, who have made clear their wishes for increased opportunities,” she said.

The Ulster Wildlife Youth Advocates #LearnMoreOutdoors online resources are being shared on the Ulster Wildlife social media and hosted on the Ulster Wildlife website for download. To find out more, visit https://www.ulsterwildlife.org/learn-more-outdoors

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