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News 2023

Ireland’s woodlands to become ‘living classrooms’ following successful Tree Explorers Projects

6 Mar 2023

A pilot project turning a tree rich university campus into a ‘living classroom’ has received funding to roll the initiative out nationwide.

The Tree Explorers project at University College Cork (UCC) involved the development of tree tours around UCC’s campus – a recognised arboretum in its own right – along with workshops, public talks, educational materials, a self-guided map and a series of videos.

Led by Dr Eoin Lettice, Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich and Prof Claire Connolly of UCC, the Irish Tree Explorers Network (ITEN) has now received funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to take what has been learned from the project’s success in Cork and bring it to a national audience. ITEN will also introduce a humanities strand to the project to explore the links between these tree collections and literature and literary figures.

Through developing partnerships with Coillte, the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Tree Council of Ireland, ITEN will engage even more people with the importance of trees, nature, and the environment through important tree collections.

Commenting on the ITEN project award, Principal Investigator Dr Eoin Lettice said: "We are excited that SFI continue to see the value in our work and have awarded significant funding to bring the 'Tree Explorers' concept to a much wider audience. Increasingly, trees and nature in general are being recognised for the host of economic, biodiversity, health, and social benefits that they bring. ITEN is an opportunity to engage even more people with the importance of our trees and the tangible benefits that they can provide - whether that is tackling climate change, increasing biodiversity or adding to the beauty of our urban and rural landscape."

Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich, Head of Plant Science at UCC says “I am delighted that SFI has funded our project. This gives us a great opportunity to extend our reach nationally of our public engagement on STEM topics.”

Emma Hutchinson, Research Assistant on the project highlighted that: “UCC Arboretum has been the central element of the Tree Explorers Project. By rolling this project out nationally, trees and forests will become more accessible regardless of geographical location and it will help to spread the word about the importance and value of trees to a wider audience.”

ITEN is one of four UCC projects that have today been awarded a joint €451,000 in funding from the SFI Discover Programme. Today’s announcement represents funding in four projects which will deliver impactful research that aligns to the UCC Futures framework, provides opportunities for deep public engagement, and supports and develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD and Minister for Education Norma Foley TD have today announced an investment of more than €6 million in 40 projects to inspire public engagement in STEM.

Speaking today, Minister Harris said: “The SFI Discover Programme aims to stimulate an open and inclusive conversation on STEM, empowering participation and growing talent, with the aim of ensuring everyone can bring forward ideas and solutions for our society. “The significant funding announced today will encourage the 40 awardees to bring the incredible world of STEM to those who may not otherwise have considered the endless opportunities available that are out there.

“I look forward to seeing the results and achievements of these projects, and I have no doubt they will help inspire many people to pursue careers and studies in STEM.”

The SFI Discover Programme targets projects that empower and inspire deep public engagement with STEM, creating new initiatives with people and not for them.

Minister Foley said: “The Department of Education is pleased to collaborate with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science once again this year by supporting projects that will receive funding through the SFI Discover Programme intended to enhance, nurture and support STEM education.

“STEM subjects ignite curiosity and it is wonderful to see so many of our young learners and students engaging with STEM and I hope that this will instil an interest in further study in this area. I wish all the participants every success in their work as they commence their projects.”

Prof Philip Nolan, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland, said: “The SFI Discover Programme is a key part of our education and public engagement strategy. “The Programme encourages collaboration to support public engagement with STEM, with a specific emphasis on broadening participation geographically and amongst less represented voices in STEM. “It is essential that we support and encourage diversity and equality at all levels, providing the talent in our society an opportunity to fully participate in shaping our collective future. SFI is keen to push the boundaries of participation and engagement with STEM research. I look forward to seeing what these projects achieve over the coming months.”


School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences

An Scoil Eolaíochtaí Bitheolaíocha, Domhaneolaíocha agus Comhshaoil

Distillery Fields, North Mall, University College Cork, Ireland , T23 N73K.