The government launched its 25 Year Environment Plan last week, and we heard the views of NAEE’s President, Prof Justin Dillon about it on Tuesday.  Today, we hear from NAEE Trustee Dr Morgan Phillips.  What follows is a shortened version of what appears on Morgan’s website.

Last week, DEFRA launched their long-awaited environment plan: ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment.’  I wrote about it over the weekend and summarise the main points here.

There are things to grasp onto.  A lot of debate and cross-department deliberation seems to have gone on into this plan and this is the first time in a while that a Prime Minister has made a dedicated speech about the Environment.  It also reflects that DEFRA has been listening (if with quite selective hearing).  But, after two and half years of waiting, it is fair to say that environmental organisations and commentators expected more.  While most welcomed the ambition, the feedback ringing in DEFRA’s ears will be that the plan is ‘too little, too late’ (e.g. Friends of the Earth), lacking in teeth (e.g. New Economics Foundation) and, as George Monbiot brilliantly put, over reliant on gimmicks: ‘a plastic free aisle in the supermarkets will not deliver a plastic free isle.’  Oh, and despite a declaration that ‘we will provide international leadership and lead by example in tackling climate change’ (p. 110), the plan mentions the Government’s fracking plans precisely zero times.

The contribution environmental education can make to ‘improving the environment’ is consistently underestimated. Once again, here, it has been overlooked, both by DEFRA and most green commentators. We have grown used to this. Now, there are plenty of mentions of schools and education in the 25-year plan.  There is good news for anti-litter educators (p. 91) and the UK’s heritage organisations (p. 113).  Chapter three will encourage some in environmental education circles too.  It praises forest schools and care farms and commits to the launch of a ‘Nature Friendly Schools Programme’ (p. 75).  The #iwill campaign is to have an environmental theme as part of a wider 2019 ‘year of action for our environment’ (p. 80). So, there are sure to be opportunities for canny environmental educators in the coming years.

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, cannot plead ignorance on education and he is better placed than most of his predecessors when it comes to influencing the Department for Education.  But, the sweeping changes made during his time as Education Secretary dislodged sustainability from a position of some strength in our schools system. It is no great surprise to anyone then that DEFRA is reluctant to champion environmental education.  However, it may be worth highlighting to DEFRA that to ‘improve the environment’ over a 25-year period, we are going to need motivated, knowledgeable and skilled people capable of implementing and driving through some quite radical changes.  Mr Gove has been known to change direction in the past, so may well come round if a few things are highlighted to him.

For example, the plan talks about appointing a National Tree Champion (p, 50) and explains how this champion ‘will encourage joined-up thinking on issues for trees’ – joined up thinking about trees is a skill and one we will need lots of people to have.  Is a sole ‘encourager’ of it enough? Would it not make more sense to embed the development of joined up thinking on trees (and for that matter ecosystems) in our education system?

You will find more examples in my longer blog, and an exploration of why connecting people to nature is important.

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Note: As ever with NAEE blogs this post is a personal view, not that of the Association.