Community Connections and Conservation

13 Jul 2022

An exploration of the efficacy of UCC as an outdoor classroom for promoting biodiversity and climate awareness in local                                                                                primary school children

Our UCC Green Campus Living Laboratory Programme was established in 2019 to promote and fund research which seeks to address ongoing environmental issues, using our campus as a testbed. A ‘Living Laboratory’ utilises the knowledge and research capabilities of an Institution’s students and staff to solve issues relating to its infrastructure and practices. Our programme funds research masters' projects (up to €28,000) and demonstration projects (up to €10,000), and each funded project aims to:

  • Solve a real-life problem.
  • Work in partnership among key stakeholders, often crossing disciplinary and/or sectoral boundaries.
  • Trial and test ideas in real life settings in order to further refine solutions proposed.
  • Share data and findings generated openly.

Lydia Elliott is one of several successful applicants who received funding from our 20/21 call for project proposals. Lydia is currently undertaking a research masters’ degree in Environmental Education. Her project provides interactive and engaging lessons for students aged between 9-13 to increase environmental awareness. Her aim is to promote long-term mindset and behaviour changes towards the natural world by empowering children to make sustainable choices and use their voice when talking about the climate crisis.

Here’s an overview of Lydia’s research:

‘My research masters project is entitled 'Community connections and conservation: An exploration of the efficacy of UCC as an outdoor classroom for promoting biodiversity and climate awareness in local primary school children'. I'm working with primary schools in close proximity to UCC to raise awareness on issues surrounding biodiversity and climate change. Without the knowledge of how our environment is being impacted by human activities we cannot take any action. However, I am hoping the lesson will also inspire long-term behaviour and mindset changes.

My aim with this project is to engage a curiosity for the natural world through interactive lessons and games. The day begins with a walk from their school to the UCC BEES Campus, ensuring our project stays carbon neutral. During the walk we keep our eyes peeled for Cork's biodiversity, and we have been lucky to see otters, herons, cormorants, and more. The student's get settled in the cooperage labs after looking at our taxidermy collection in the hallways. We have a discussion on the threats and solutions surrounding biodiversity and climate change, followed by a game using the Green Campus cards designed by JP Quinn from the UCC Visitors Centre. Then everyone walks out to our green spaces on BEES Campus to see biodiversity in action.

We identify our native plants and the important roles they play for invertebrates, contrasting this to any invasive species we find (winter heliotrope, Japanese knotweed). We survey the biodiversity around UCC using pooters, sweep nets, and pitfall traps and compare how the flora and fauna changed as we moved from a grassland to a woodland habitat. The students fill out a survey before and after the lesson. I compare the data to see if the students had a change of understanding and mindset towards biodiversity and climate change due to the lesson. Preliminary results show there has been an increase in knowledge and appreciation for nature in the students’.