4 questions to ask when introducing biodiversity

How to successfully avoid ‘pet projects’ when introducing sustainability

Wildflower meadows not growing properly, vegetable gardens abandoned and wildlife coming to a standstill in a neglected pond — this can all happen very easily!

‘Pet projects’ are perhaps the biggest pitfall schools face when introducing biodiversity initiatives: small, uncoordinated projects started without a plan for their ongoing maintenance don’t usually make it past the first few months.

In order to fix this, it is worth remembering that successful biodiversity schemes provide both physical development for the school and an ecological resource for teaching.

It is therefore a good starting point to consider how to work with the potential already within your school (in terms of grounds and resources) to make sure that both of these are successfully achieved — and at a reasonable cost.

Consideration of these 4 questions when starting or reviewing a project will ensure that it is properly set up for success. Any biodiversity initiative is only valuable if it will work, and planning the practical aspects of it beforehand is key to its success.

1. Is the initiative the right fit for your school?

For example, wildflower meadows are an increasingly popular way to introduce biodiversity — but they are not right for every school. Their survival depends on the natural landscape of the grounds and the school’s capacity for long-term pupil and teacher engagement.

If your school is not on the correct land to facilitate a project properly and there aren’t the resources for ongoing engagement, the new initiative won’t work. Committing to projects that are the right fit for your school means that they will have meaningful, long-term impact.

2. Is ongoing pupil engagement part of the curriculum?

The biggest part of the ongoing maintenance and therefore the success of any project will be the level of pupil engagement. Most ecological projects require year-round maintenance, and this is best achieved by integrating multiple ways pupils can engage with it into the curriculum, rather than just one.

It is also important to look at how engagement is allocated across the projects you have or are planning to start. Consider how Enquiry Weeks, elective programmes or volunteering opportunities could work to integrate your project within your school curriculum.

3. How will you achieve community engagement with the project?

Although community engagement doesn’t necessarily first come to mind when thinking about ecological development, it is essential for the success of most projects.

If members of the community are involved with the physical delivery of projects, it can provide another way for maintenance to happen outside of the main curriculum. Community engagement both in person and through social media is also a great way for pupils to learn about advocacy as a key part of sustainability.

Parents, alumni and educational partners can be asked to support your project, or leverage their professional expertise for teaching, lecturing or to support the task itself. It is also important to establish clear communication with all interested parties (including staff) to let them know the aim behind each initiative.

4. Do you have the right amount of staff coverage?

Each new initiative requires specific support from staff for it to flourish. The amount required will depend on how many projects your school has — and crucially, support needs to be continued out of term times to ensure that the projects don’t fail.

Depending on the scope of your plans, it may be worth hiring someone with the correct expertise to coordinate the teaching and upkeep (like a Sustainability Development Manager). Otherwise, existing staff will take ownership of the teaching side of things, the general maintenance and the integration of community efforts to ensure that each project thrives both during and out of term time.

The above four questions provide a sound basis for an ecological development plan — even if that plan consists of only one project. By working out the practical aspects beforehand, any ‘pet project’ can become a successful, forward-thinking and exciting initiative that moves your school towards a more sustainable future.