In Conservation With… interview

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Mary Colwell

Sparking Future Conservationists with a GCSE in Natural History

Mary is spearheading the establishment of a GCSE in Natural History.

Young people taking a GCSE in Natural History will gain the skills to be the naturalists of the future. By learning how to name, observe and record the animals, plants and birds of the UK, and discover the connection between nature and culture, they will be equipped to build on the awareness of environmental issues and climate change already in the National Curriculum. A GCSE in Natural History will provide an important and powerful addition to existing content.

Britain has a long and acclaimed tradition in studying and celebrating its wildlife, yet young people today are more disconnected from the natural world than at any time in history. Around 90% of the population of the UK live in towns and cities and the countryside is losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. We believe that it is essential to respond to the call from young people for more urgent action, and for education to help equip them to respond to the environmental crisis.

The GCSE will provide a structured framework for the study of Britain’s wild creatures and plant life, providing young people with a solid understanding of their local environment. It will then connect local nature to the wider world through an understanding of migration, invasive species and transport of species for trade. It will teach safe and sensitive field skills, how to identify, monitor, record and track wildlife, how to provide useful data for national databases and examine how the nature of Britain has changed through time, and why. It will also, crucially, demonstrate how nature has inspired art, music, literature and poetry, film and radio as well as the digital space.

There has never been a more important time to reconnect young people to the natural world both for jobs in nature restoration and conservation but also because access to nature improves health and well-being. The skills of the naturalist are being lost at a time when they are needed more than ever. This GCSE is one step to putting that right.

Mary Colwell is an author, producer and campaigner for nature. Her articles have appeared in the Guardian, BBC Wildlife Magazine, The Tablet, Country Life and many other publications. She has made documentaries for the BBC Natural History Unit in both TV and radio, and has published three books: John Muir – the Scotsman Who Saved America’s Wild Places in 2014 (Lion Hudson), Curlew Moon in April 2018 (William Collins) and Beak Tooth and Claw (William Collins) due in April 2021.

In 2009 she won a Sony Radio Academy Gold award and in October 2017 she was awarded the Dilys Breese Medal by the BTO for outstanding science communication, the David Bellamy Award in 2018 from the Gamekeepers Association for her conservation work on Curlews and, in 2019, the WWT Marsh Award for Conservation.

In March 2021 she was appointed Chair of the government supported Curlew Recovery Partnership England – a roundtable of organisations charged with restoring Curlews, their habitats and associated wildlife across England. In 2020 she set up the charity, Curlew Action.

She is also spearheading the establishment of a GCSE in Natural History.

Should be a lively conversation