Parents 'can seed ecological awareness'

Image: .

Access to gardens and citizen science helps encourage conservation among children, study shows

It is important teachers and educators opt for a citizen science project their pupils are likely to have a personal interest in.

Access to gardens and citizen science projects at school can help promote pro-conservation behaviour among pupils, a new study shows.

Offering children the chance to take part in authentic scientific ecological work and gardening encourages an interest in plants.

This can change behaviour – to spend more time gardening or to pursue a botanical career - and fuels a positive attitude towards safeguarding the environment, experts found.


Dr Bethan Stagg from the University of Exeter and Professor Justin Dillon, from UCL, assessed the evidence around teaching conservation and ecology.

Dr Stagg said: “Ecological gardens provide opportunities for in-depth observation of ecological interactions, develop empathy with living organisms and to increase interest in the natural environment and how our actions affect it. Active interactions with plants through gardening and planting activities, are particularly effective for fostering plant awareness.”

The study calls for more pedagogic gardening practices to be included in teacher training courses. This would help to address a key barrier to school gardening, which is teachers’ low horticultural knowledge and confidence for developing curriculum-relevant garden-based activities, coupled with a lack of time for staff training in-school.

Evidence examined shows being involved in authentic science enquiry allows pupils to develop ecological knowledge and investigative skills with ‘real world’ relevance. This leads to an increase in positive attitudes to plants and motivation to pursue scientific enquiries, as well as an increase in pro-plant behaviours. 


But the research shows pupils must be given the opportunity to discuss and evaluate the results with peers and to share the results with others, and to understand the significance of the findings to the class, local community or society.

Dr Stagg said: “It is important teachers and educators opt for a citizen science project their pupils are likely to have a personal interest in and the self-efficacy to participate, to increase the likelihood of a lasting engagement with the scheme.

“Incorporating citizen science participation into module content and assessment is a valuable strategy for ensuring student engagement and diligence in data collection. Mentoring schemes and knowledge exchange partnerships between teachers and university scientists.”

The study also recommends teacher memberships of ecology professional societies could help to improve their confidence in teaching ecology and finding support and connections.

Dr Stagg runs a free online course for teachers to help them learn about inspiring primary-aged children to be interested in plants and outdoor learning. To enrol go to

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

More from this author