Last week, the government launched its 25 Year Environment Plan, and we intend to cover this important event with a number of posts in the coming weeks.  We begin, appropriately, with the views of NAEE’s President, Prof Justin Dillon of the University of Exeter.


The long-awaited 25-year Environment Plan was launched on January 11 delivering on a Manifesto commitment from both 2015 and 2017.  Has it been worth the wait?

In Chapter 3, ‘Connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing’ we find sections on ‘Helping people improve their health and wellbeing by using green spaces’, ‘Encouraging children to be close to nature, in and out of school’, ‘Greening our towns and cities’ and ‘Making 2019 a Year of Action for the environment’.  Digging further, we get to ‘Helping primary schools create nature-friendly grounds’ and ‘Supporting more pupil contact with local natural spaces’. So much for the bones – what does the flesh look like?

The plan puts a responsibility on the National Park Authorities to double the 60,000 young people a year who they host on school visits.  So that would be 120,000 of the 8.7m pupils in school in England – hardly scratching the surface but at least a recognition of the value of the great outdoors.

Forest schools, which now seem to be part of mainstream education provision, are picked out for their approach which ‘encourages children to explore nature and have a relationship with the outdoors’.  Schools are encouraged to support a closeness with nature by the ‘new science and geography curriculum and qualifications’ which ‘encourage pupils to undertake fieldwork as part of their course of study’.  Farms, both rural and city are recognised for their work with schools.

The Government will be making £10m available to support a range of initiatives such as the Nature Friendly Schools Programme to help more communities in the most disadvantaged areas to ‘create the kind of school grounds that support learning about the natural world and also keep children happy and healthy’.  Another initiative, which isn’t costed in the report, involves making it easier ‘to take pupils on trips to natural spaces on a regular basis where they can combine learning with feeling healthier and happier’.

It’s fair to say that the environment sector hasn’t gone overboard with praise.  Both the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts noted the lack of any legal underpinning for some of the key initiatives and Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth’s chief executive, pithily noted that ‘Twenty five years is a long way off – particularly for a government that might not last 25 weeks’.

The 25-year plan seems to miss a fundamental point.  Without a sea change in the quality of environmental education in and out of schools, the admirable goal of a healthier environment is unlikely to come to fruition in 25 or even 50 years.  Schools and their leaders have a key role in influencing public attitudes and empowering students to support the reverse of decades of environmental degradation in both urban and rural areas, but this plan, for all its merits, only plays lip-service to a challenge that must be at the heart of social change in England and, indeed, all of the UK.


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


  1. So as a teacher how would I grade this document?
    Firstly I haven’t yet read through the entire document, so am working from summaries from people whose views I respect.
    I do though fell that I have got the flavour of this launch of a long awaited manifesto commitment.
    Grade A for recognition at last in a government manifesto of the work that teachers,& others associated with young people, have been achieving over many years by getting young people out of the classroom to learn about the natural world..

    Grade D or worse to read that the teaching profession is being encouraged to introduce fieldwork into new curriculum arrangements. Hasn’t fieldwork been there in some form since the 1870 Education Act? Nature walks and lessons outside as well as school gardens and scientific experiments?NAEE and others concerned with learning about and caring for the future of environments have been struggling to continue this in spite of a dumbed down curriculum for a number of years.

    Unclassified grade for the feasibility of the financial commitments.It appears that 2019 is going to be the significant year for developing environmental awareness. Politicians inevitably take a short term view as their term of office may be a max of 5 years. So how can a 25 year plan have real costings from any political party particularly one that is in a very unstable position?

    I so agree with Justin’s final point. The clever political slant has been to link this with developing a healthier, more mentally fit, society. A very current and concerning issue .However this cannot be achieved without major social changes. Joined up provision for a sustainable future from early years childcare to meaningful environmental awarenesseducation for young people in and out of school time, incorporating issues such as waste management and adequate housing provision.
    So I give the document a PASS, but a low one.

  2. Have just finished first reading of a recent and very similar document for New Zealand. Worthy words in both documents but where’s the cash?

    It must be more than five years since I joined the campaigning organisation 38 degrees when the government were planning to sell off the Forestry Commission to private enterprise. The campaign was a success but subsequent funding for educational activities was virtually strangled.

    Here back in 1987 a forward looking government formed a well funded Department of Conservation whose work and network was legendary when we arrived back in 1999. Sadly 2004 saw the first major cuts (under a labour government,!) as the economy was in poor shape. Since then we,be seen several more cuts on what is not seen as a high priority service. More recently under the National Government ( Centre Right) a stricter testing regime has been gradually imposed in primary schools. Once again the environmental work has been funded on lip service and platitudes.

    My local work here is still very much involved in restoring a magnificent 4km Forestry Walkway from sea level up to 1000 feet that DOC handed back to the local Council after the 2004 cuts. They let the private Forestry firms take over and quietly make it difficult for public access

    Back to UK and especially Cumbria where I’ve too much evidence of the many facilities I was able to take my classes to and the specialist staff I, along with the children, could learn so much from are no longer available.

    Cash and a decent Curriculum bias on the environment our what’s needed. Words come far too easily to so many of our leaders.

  3. “Without a sea change in the quality of environmental education in and out of schools, the admirable goal of a healthier environment is unlikely to come to fruition in 25 or even 50 years.” To say nothing of David Orr’s observation that all education is environmental education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment