The Park Stewardship programme is a key element in GAP’s programme of environmental engagement with schools, and an integral part of our social inclusion work.
Supported by Dublin City Council, and run in partnership with schools in the Dublin region, the Park Stewardship Programme is considered one of the most important environmental educational programmes in local primary schools and is in high demand yearly. (see also this article, on why outdoor education is important.)
The programme engages young people to support the long-term care, ownership and protection of local parks, while also connecting young people with the relevant authorities and agencies that are charged with the overall management of such spaces.
This kind of support is key to ensuring the long-term protection and integrity of these spaces. The active engagement of local young people in the care of parks leads to a deeper appreciation of their value and ensures that young people have a greater sense of ownership and responsibility.
1) What kinds of things do students experience during Park Stewardship and Biodiversity Stewardship sessions?
During our sessions, we respond to the season and to what is taking place in nature around us. The Park Stewardship and Biodiversity Programmes put a strong emphasis on facilitating a strong connection to nature in the local area.
We are very lucky to have conducted sessions in some wonderful parks around Dublin city, including Popppintree park and Albert College park.
Throughout the programme, children are invited to engage with the following themes in a fun, child-friendly, experiential way:
Trees, plants and common wildflowers; mini beasts; birds; mammals; biodiversity; food webs.
Students develop plant and insect ID skills through fun games, scavenger hunts, and child-led exploration. We provide resources such ID charts for students keen on identifying and developing citizen-scientist skills. We also use art, crafts, play, story to help children to engage with nature creatively and imaginatively.
We encourage children to use all of their senses in activities like “meet a tree” where students are blindfolded and have to use their other senses to identify characteristics of the trees they meet.
2) Litter picking
An important and much-liked part of the programme is our litter-picking week. We practise Leave no Trace principles when we are in the park and the children commit to looking after the park and leaving it in even better condition than when they arrived if possible. Clearing up litter and removing some of the illegal dumping we find has given students a great sense of accomplishment in the past.
3) Field trip to Bull Island
Our Park Stewardship groups visit Bull Island to learn about this important ecosystem right in the heart of Dublin Bay. Children make happy memories building and designing sand creations on the beach and learn a huge amount about the varied and beautiful biodiversity on the island.
4) Tree Planting
Depending on the time of year, our Park Stewardship groups plant trees in the parks and local area. This is a practical and enjoyable climate action which contributes positively to the biodiversity of the local area and it’s always a highlight of the programme for all concerned!