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Connecting with nature: greening schools, citizen science and urban ecology

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By Antonija Avdalovic

· 3 min read

Currently more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and that number is projected to grow. It is estimated that by 2050 two thirds of the global population will live in cities (World Urbanisation Prospects). In the midst of rapid urbanisation people have disconnected from nature. Nowadays children are given their first iPad before they can speak their first words. An increasing number of people have a fear of insects or spiders. People fear nature.

Cities are dubbed novel ecosystems, but they aren’t closed ecosystems. They need outside resources to function. Fields for food, forests for raw materials, streams and rivers for water supply. Cities are dependent on nature, no matter if other people think otherwise. During this global urbanisation trend we have to think about sustainability. Sustainable use of resources and nature based solutions could transform our cities and help life thrive. How can we make this a reality? The answer is simple - education.

Green schools

Education starts in our schools. Green schools and classes teaching green skills should become a reality. Green skills represent the knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society. Through play elementary school children can learn how to recycle, garden and take care of living things. They need a chance to get their hands dirty and learn hands-on skills.

Recently I worked on a project concerning greening schools in my country. We made a plan to introduce living walls to a school close to a thermal power plant. The project would be a community project where sponsors, teachers, parents and their children would plant and take care of the living wall. It would be my first pilot project with WWF Adria. A great step towards a sustainable future.

One of my professors said that you can change people and their habits through their children. It’s surprising how much of an influence children have on their parents. Children are really eager to learn and pass on their knowledge.

Figure 1: Picture of a child watering plants.

Citizen science

Another great way to connect people with nature is by letting them participate in scientific studies. There are a lot of citizen science projects all over the world. The job of a citizen scientist is to take pictures or gather some other type of data and upload it to a server. These observations are useful for various studies especially concerning ecology studies. This way people have an excuse to walk around urban or rural areas and enjoy nature while learning something new. There are even websites dedicated to citizen science projects.

A project in my country that recently turned into a published paper was about an invasive species of bee. People were told to take pictures around Belgrade. The scientists in charge of the project explained how the bees look like, which flowers they like to visit and how their boroughs look like. Most people were delighted to send pictures of this invasive bee, while some were angered that the scientists were researching an invasive species instead of our native species. This is also a great opportunity to educate people on ecology and why it’s important to research invasive species. It’s important to understand the ecology and dispersal of invasive species so that we deduce where they came from, how far they spread and how they are interacting with our native populations.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Antonija Avdalovic is a masters student at the University of Belgrade where she studies zoology and evolutionary morphology. She is passionate about evolution, science communication and sustainability. Currently she is working on greening schools and developing an app about recycling and eco packaging.

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