Plans to help Welsh nature thrive

Forest visitor centre enjoys rebirth

14 Jul 2014 — An award-winning forest visitor centre has enjoyed a rebirth since being devastated by the spread of a disease which affects larch trees. Some 12,000 native trees including sessile oak, rowan, birch, field maple, wild…

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The flawed nature of the International Whaling Commission’s science

As a body established to look at a scientific approach to whaling, the International Whaling Commission’s scientific credibility is sorely lacking.

WHAT A MERRY DAY it was for Australia. Back in March, I stayed up late, watching on the Internet as an angular Slovakian judge in dark robes read out the International Court of Justice’s finding that Japan’s whaling program was not ‘scientific’, as they had always claimed.

Australians were jubilant. Japan has described Australians as regarding whales as “sacred”; by the reaction, it seemed they were right. Australians celebrated as they thought the annual Japanese whale hunt in Antarctic waters was finally over. Australia had taken Japan to court and won.

As Professor Steven Freeland noted at the time, options remained for Japan should they choose to go back to Antarctica. As we head into this week’s International Whaling Commission meeting, it seems they are going ahead with the option to revise their scientific program of whaling to make it more genuinely scientific.

The International Whaling Commission has always been a controversial organisation. It came into being in the 1940s when it was recognised that whales were becoming increasingly scarce. The idea was that international agreement would be reached on catch limits in order to allow whale numbers to recover. Then whaling could be conducted into the future on a sustainable basis.

Science has therefore always been integral to the Commission.

But as with any international organisation, so is politics.

In 1982 the IWC voted for a moratorium on whaling. Despite the objections of some IWC members, it came into force in 1986. In 1979 and 1994, the IWC nations voted to establish whale sanctuaries near Antarctica.

Gradually, as anti-whaling nations joined the IWC and started voting, it has come to be seen as a whale protection organisation, rather than a whaling regulation organisation.

But it’s worth remembering that this was not the IWC’s original purpose.

It’s also worth remembering that the IWC is a voluntary organisation. Japan got around the moratorium on whaling in Antarctica by simply registering a formal objection to the sanctuary, and describing its whaling as ‘scientific’.

In the past, nations have withdrawn from the IWC. Some even started their own rival whaling organisations.

This weakness of the IWC’s constitution has always made for controversy. And there have been many calls over the years for the IWC’s powers to be strengthened.

Nick Gales and colleagues’ recent paper in Science is no exception (pdf). Reflecting on the International Court of Justice ruling, Dr Gales from the Australian Antarctic Division, argues that the IWC’s scientific committee needs overhauling.

At the moment, the IWC doesn’t approve a ‘scientific’ program of whaling, whether from Japan or anyone else. The scientific committee simply reviews the proposal and makes recommendations. The whaling country can choose to ignore them, as Japan did in the case of its JARPA II whaling program.

Gales argues that the scientific review committee should have the power to make changes to a whaling proposal, and it should be independent of the country proposing to hunt whales.

“The burden of proof on the validity of a scientific proposal properly resides with the proponent, who should sit outside the review process,” they write.

The scientific goals of the whaling proposal should be crystal clear, they say.

Japan dismissed criticism of its JARPA II whaling program as being politically motivated by the anti-whaling members of the IWC. While that might be true, the ruling of the International Court of Justice is makes a mockery of the credibility of the International Whaling Commission review process. Why review something that they have no power to change?

Japan’s motivations for whaling remain political. It keeps whaling not for reasons of tradition, or food, or science, or even national pride. It hunts whales because it is an island nation with limited natural resources of its own.

To back down to international pressure on whaling would be a slippery slope for a nation that needs the ocean. Japan is simply playing an international strategic game so that it can have access to the high seas when it needs to.

But unless the IWC’s scientific credibility is strengthened, it remains at the mercy of the political whims of the day.

As an organisation that was established to install a scientific approach to whaling, the IWC risks increasing irrelevance if it misses this opportunity to bolster its scientific credentials in the light of the ICJ ruling.

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Environment versus development: the problem with eco-tourism

If only there was perfect equilibrium between profit, people and the environment. But there isn’t – and protecting the environment counts on eco-tourism embracing community participation.

If you’ve ever looked at a pristine piece of land in full bloom in spring and yearned to return to it year after year, you know how deep the nature bug can bite. But chances are some developer will come along and build something on the land, erasing forever the pleasures it once held. The dream scenario would be if there were a perfect equilibrium between the environment, people and profit. But life’s not like that and South Africa faces tough choices ahead.

Land reform and eco-tourism

It’s now accepted that land reform in this country hasn’t worked well and communities remain impoverished despite the potential of their assets. What makes the issue even more urgent is perhaps best highlighted by land claims at iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site. Claimants have identified over 70 percent of the park as belonging to them, indicating the scope of the problem. Many of those claiming ownership no longer live on the land – they had to make way for developments, including commercial and conservation ones. Even as this iconic piece of land continues to embody many of the contesting uses for land, the issue of those living within the Dukuduku Forest has been well documented.

It’s one of the longest-running land claims sagas. The ‘squatters’ have fought against efforts to evict them, saying the land belongs to their ancestors and insisting on their rights to live off the forest as hunters and gatherers. The declaration of this area as a World Heritage Site has merely served to reinforce the need to resolve the matter of how best to use the land.

It’s clear that no other industry highlights the environment versus development tension quite like eco-tourism. This is especially true because nature was very generous when endowing South Africa with such a richly diverse natural habitat and resource base. And at a time when it’s clear that mineral resources are finite, it becomes even more apparent why eco-tourism holds the key to South Africa’s future. But it’s also abundantly obvious why it can’t be business as usual: conservation cannot succeed if it doesn’t benefit those who live next to resources. When community members turn to poaching or pillaging prized timber for firewood so that they can eke out a living, it shows a failed model for sustainable development. It makes no sense for any entrepreneur to develop world-class facilities that attract rich tourists if neighbouring communities don’t have a stake in the success of the enterprise. Sadly, many entrepreneurs regard this as a kind of grudge purchase and don’t embrace it.

(Read: Hunting and eco-tourism in the Pafuri/Makuleke concession)

Local communities should be seen as an essential part of any truly sustainable nature-based business, rather than as a problem. South Africans are well known for working things out, so it’s a little surprising for many to see how much still has to be done to find what could be considered a win-win between the environment and development lobbies. One doesn’t need to be a cynic to see that where profit is involved, it becomes tricky to simply talk of meaningful community participation as the magic wand to solve the tensions between the two sides.

Then there’s another issue: in practice, there is nothing like a homogenous community. Often community members have their own interests and objectives, and smart entrepreneurs use these to neutralise the community and increase their own advantage. There are many stories where development agencies funded what on paper looked like solid community projects, only for these to fail or even be vandalised by the very community that was meant to own the assets. Dinokeng Big Five Game Reserve, for example, faced the threat of vandalism when it opened; fences were broken down and police were called in to protect the reserve.

The truth is that entrepreneurs want to make a profit, and they typically have the know-how and the resources to obtain returns on their investments. It takes exceptional negotiation skills to persuade them to share these returns with anyone else. As for communities, even when they own the land or have lodged a land claim, they’re often poorly organised and not able to participate as equal commercial partners. This means that when they strike deals, they often do so from a position of weakness.

There have been success stories (see below on how Namibia’s getting it right), especially when the partnerships between entrepreneurs and local communities are based on independent but mutually reinforcing interests. They ensure that each of the parties is invested in the relationship. One question that always needs answering is who benefits from any development – the answer gives a clue as to who suffers, as very few developments have no unintended victims.

Dr Ian Player is a great example of motivating opposing sides to buy into a single cause. He convinced the State to bring the private sector into conservation efforts at a time when the rhino population had fallen catastrophically low with the hope that private game reserves would breed rhinos and so grow the population. Looking back, it was a stroke of genius.

It’s time for our generation to create win-win scenarios like this. Those who advocate environmental protection policies that only make people poorer should ask themselves how sustainable their approach is – the challenge of our day is to engage millions of community members who currently don’t stand to benefit significantly from protecting the environment.

The tension between development and protecting the environment is only going to worsen. Poverty and a poorly protected environment go hand in hand. Whether it’s in urban shanties or rural communities, sustainable development can succeed only if the ordinary people believe their lives will be improved by caring for the environment.


Success story by Scott Ramsay

In the early 1990s, after the SA army had decimated much of the wildlife, the Namibian government granted communities legal rights to their traditional land, giving ownership of the remaining wildlife to people who were once poachers. The Ovambo, Kavango, Herero, Himba and Damara people could choose how best to make a sustainable living. Almost every community chose to conserve their wild animals.

In 1998, the first formal conservancy was registered. Today there are more than 79, covering about 20 percent of the country and creating more than 1000 permanent jobs. As John Kasaona, a community leader in conservation, said: ‘This is our new economy, an economy based on the respect for our natural resources.’

Conservancies and national parks now formally conserve almost half of Namibia, one of the highest figures in the world. Wildlife numbers have responded dramatically. After almost becoming extinct, the free-roaming black rhino population is the largest in Africa and Namibia has the only expanding population of wild lions, while numbers of the famous desert-adapted elephants have at least tripled.

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Getaway Magazine.

This article, Environment versus development: the problem with eco-tourism, was originally posted on the Getaway Blog by Victor Dlamini.

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Fred Gehlbach: Wildlife as nature’s teachers – Waco Tribune

I started writing this month’s column in late August after a good rain that stimulated activity by native wildlife, plants, and nature-seeking people. Several locally hatched and grown-up Mississippi kites were still here whistling along the forested edges of our daily walking route before flying south for the winter. About the same time, a friend, Janet Wallace, counted 60 to 76 Mississippi kites circling together over Lake Waco.

Mississippi kites are hard to miss. As aerial predators of mainly large flying insects, they tend to perch in the open on electrical lines and tall bare branches of big trees to keep an eye on the sky as well as on the woods and yards below. A few young ones still beg for a meal, now mostly cicadas and grasshoppers.

As the last kite at our house left Aug. 21, I thought about climate change and how certain wildlife as infrequent part-timers have become annual local nesters. Other large, spring and summer nesting birds include broad-winged hawks that have mostly headed south by now, replaced by northern relatives resting and eating on their way south. Such transients mingling with summer locals can be confusing. But by the first week of September, most summer birds are gone, except white-eyed vireos singing territorial songs along our yard-forest border.

Do they keep warning others to stay away from their nest and feeding areas?

One of the bad happenings after a good rain is that it stimulates native amphibians to get on wet streets to soak up needed body water through their skins. But many are killed by cars, especially at night near street lights that draw them to the light-attracted insects they eat.

On one morning walk, my wife, Nancy, and I found seven car-smashed Gulf Coast toads and a flat-headed snake (its common name), with a flat, dead body that didn’t fit the name. The dead were in one short block. It wasn’t a new experience for us.

I transferred one live toad from a wet street to a nearby wet flowerbed, where it immediately dug itself into the soil. All Central Texas frogs, toads, and salamanders are amphibians and harmless, helpful insect-eaters, so please try to safely avoid these animals on wet streets, day or night. Our daytime lizards (reptiles) also are harmless, beneficial insect-eaters in yards and on driveways and sidewalks.

Native Turk’s cap flowers are blooming and attracting ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds during September’s first week. Both hummers nest close by; the ruby-throats almost in our front yard.

Do you know that all the world’s hummingbirds live only in the Western Hemisphere? Hummers are attracted to our early frost weed flowers among the Turk’s caps that also attract gorgeous butterflies.

After the rain, Drummond’s white rain flowers burst forth by the dozens in some yards, but were just as quickly mowed down by grass cutters. Why? They don’t hurt grass, look great, smell wonderful and signal native renewal.

They make me think about showy, harmless, native lives with good messages killed by human ignorance. Do we need widespread public education about nature that allows us to live with it? After all, nature was here first and allowed people to “come in.”

Nancy and I are thankful for the beautiful black-striped yellow giant and tiger swallowtails and orange-colored Gulf fritillary butterflies drinking sap at our gorgeous wildflowers. Among them I glimpse an orange-colored Julia butterfly from deep South Texas or Northern Mexico, and wonder when this subtropical species and others move in with us, invited by our climate change.

In mid-morning, a gray fox pup looks in our front porch window, perhaps wondering what happened to that tasty dropped corn and sunflower seed.

The fox reminds me that all of us need to observe, understand, and appreciate nature’s messages and messengers. I think again about how native wildlife and plants show us about Earth, the only such place we know of in the universe.

Fred Gehlbach is a retired Baylor University research biologist.

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True Nature Healing Arts hosts first-ever Sacred Fest

Sacred Fest schedule of events

Friday, Sept. 5

All events are free on First Friday

5 p.m.: Ribbon Cutting with the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities

5:15 p.m.: Drum Circle, led by Kip Hubbard: Bring your own drum and help us raise the vibrations

5:30 p.m.: Soozie’s Larger Than Life Puppet Show

5:45 p.m.: African Dancers, “Ngoma,” in the Peace Garden

6-7 p.m.: Tours of the Labyrinth and Reflexology Path, tea tastings on the North Patio, kids’ arts crafts and high prana food tastings in the tent Village

7-8:30 p.m.: Scott Shanti Medina from Boulder present live Kirtan music in the Peace Garden Spiral. Bring a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy!

Saturday, Sept. 6

8:45-10:15 a.m.: Flow Yoga class in the main studio

Punch pass, membership or $15 drop in

9 a.m.: Tent Village opens: artistic, one-of-a-kind retail, high prana foods, kids’ activities

9 a.m.: Reflexology Path Guided Walk — free

10-10:30 a.m.: Tour With the Owners: Experience True Nature with Eaden and Deva Shantay, and learn the stories behind the amazing art, architecture and eco-construction — free

10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Mantras and Molecules with Dave Stringer, main studio — $30

This workshop will explore the neurochemistry of ecstasy through extensive practice of the call and response form of chanting known as Kirtan.

11 a.m. to noon: Family/Kids’ Yoga with Shannon in the Yoga Spiral — free

11 a.m. to noon: Taste and Discover: A Tea Presentation with Art of Tea’s Tyler Williams, tent village — $10

Noon to 1:30 p.m.: Labyrinth Workshop with Laura Kirk, small studio and labyrinth — $20

1-2 p.m.: What is Ayurveda? — with Kerry Kleisner, main studio — free

1-2 p.m.: Raw Ice Cream Social in the tent — free

2-3 p.m.: Healing Through Aura Soma, presented by Jacqui Forster, small studio — $10

2:30-3:30 p.m.: Reflexology Path Workshop with Kerry Kleisner — $10

Learn about and experience the benefits of reflexology as you combine the pathwalk with yoga, breathwork and meditation

3-4 p.m.: “The Great Transition from the Piscean to the Aquarian Age,” a lecture with Lee Beymer, main studio — $20

4:30-6 p.m.: A Raw Food Grand Tasting, presented by Chefs David Avalos and Pam David, tent — $25

7-9 p.m.: An Evening of Kirtan with Dave Stringer, with opening act Chante Pejuta — choose your donation of $5, $15 or $25: 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit the Give Back Yoga Foundation

Sunday, Sept. 7

8:45-10:15 a.m.: Flow Yoga class in the main studio

Punch pass, membership or $15 drop in

9 a.m. to noon: Tent Village opens: retail, food, kids’ activities

9 a.m.: Labyrinth Walk with Laura Kirk — free

10:30-11 a.m.: Blessing and Meditation in the Yoga Spiral with Deva and Eaden — free

11 a.m. to noon: Healing with Aura Soma and Readings with Jacqui Forster, small studio — $10

11 a.m. to noon: Tea Through the Ages: a Tea Presentation with Art of Tea’s Tyler Williams, tent — $10

11 a.m. to noon: Family/Kids’ Yoga in the Spiral with Shannon — free

12:30-1:30 p.m.: Gong and Singing Bowl Meditation with Dave and Pam in the main studio — $10

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Life after lignite: how Lusatia has returned to nature

Down a single lane road lined by oak trees, about 90 minutes southeast of Berlin, the tiny village of Pritzen sits on a peninsula that juts into Lake Altdöbern. It’s something of a miracle that Pritzen still exists.

Neighboring villages were demolished in the 1980s to make room for an expanding lignite strip mine and Pritzen was slated to be swallowed up next. By 1987 almost all of the 500 or so residents had packed up and left, chased away by the suffocating dust and noise from the mine and the threat of the imminent destruction of their homes.

But then in 1992, after three quarters of the town had already been bulldozed or dismantled, including the centuries-old church and its cemetery, the decision was made to close the mine.

Pritzen still stood, barely, clinging to the edge of a precipice that dropped 70 metres into the mine. Sensing a miraculous change of fortune, villagers began to return. They rebuilt their demolished homes and began replanting their fields and gardens. The steeple from the vanished village of nearby Wolkenhain, its beams dating back to 1485, was erected where the old Pritzen church once stood.

The Vattenfall lignite mine and cooling towers of the lignite-fired power plant in Jaenschwalde, Griessen, Germany.
Photograph: Patrick Pleul/DPA/Corbis

“It is a prominent example of a wounded landscape,” said Katja Sophia Wolf, the head of the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) student house in nearby Großräschen and one of the leaders of the Pritzen revitalisation project. “Many houses were destroyed by the mine. The character of Pritzen was changed completely.”

Lignite mining has a long history in this region, called Lusatia. The first mine was started in 1844, along with briquette factories that compacted the lignite into burnable bricks, and related manufacturing and metallurgy industries. A flood of workers arrived for new jobs. Under the East German govenment, the mines were nationalised and expanded. By 1975, Germany had become the world’s largest coal producer, and by the time the country was reunified the industry employed 140,000 people. With the mines came environmental destruction and pollution of the air, ground, and water on a massive scale.

Lignite mining also wreaked havoc among the region’s small villages. According to the Archive of Lost Places, a museum, 136 small and medium towns have been swallowed up by the mines, their residents resettled or evicted. 25,000 people have lost their homes over the years. Just last month, thousands of people protested at Kerkwitz, forming a human chain four-mile long in protest at plans to demolish the Lusatian village for a new lignite mine.

Nevertheless, Lusatian lignite was essential to the German economy and a vital source of regional pride and jobs in the region. “Prior to industrialisation, Lower Lusatia was desperately poor. Only with the energy industry did modest prosperity arrive in our area,” said mayor Frank Szymanski of university city Cottbus.

Then came reunification. Almost all the mines in southern Lusatia were closed. A pressing question arose: what to do with the deep, expansive open pits that scar the area and other messy leftovers from decades of rampant lignite mining? And how to repair the environment? It was a puzzle, but also an opportunity.

A young woman skates past an explanatory sign that shows what adjacent Bärwalder See lake, near Boxberg, once looked like.
Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

To solve it, the government set up the Lausitz and Middle Germany Mining Administrative Company, or LMBV, in 1994. “Our duty is to rehabilitate all the former state-owned mining areas from the GDR period,” said Jörg Schlenstedt, an engineer at LMBV. “The mines were closed down but their legacy was not finalised. Recultivation, rehabilitation, transformation. That’s our job.”

LMBV floods the old mines, turning them into lakes. It treats and cleans water polluted by mining. It replants forests, sells land to be used for fields of solar panels and wind turbines, and encourages agriculture. Even the fish are returning, colonising the artificial lakes by way of new canals that didn’t previously exist or were too acidic to support life. “We can’t bring the area back to its former state, but our aim is to create a useful, natural landscape that provides new chances to the people living here, and also for the next generation,” said Schlenstedt. “All the old natural functions of this area, from before mining, will work again.”

LMBV created 24 artificial lakes in this part of Lusatia and 140 sq km of water surface is newly available for swimming and boating. “That’s one-third more lake area than there was before lignite mining,” said Uwe Steinhuber, a spokesman for the company. The Lusatian lake district is now Europe’s largest artificial lake area.

It has been a long and difficult process. “When we first went to look at one of the mines, it was like a journey to Mars,” said Wolf of IBA, a century-old organisation that deploys artists and architects in formerly industrial areas around Germany. Photos of the excursion show Wolf and her colleagues trudging through an alien landscape, obscured by swirling clouds of grey dust so thick it blocked out the sunlight.

Like LMBV, IBA also works to help this region recover from mining, but in different ways. “IBA didn’t want to hide the industrial heritage, but to show it,” said Sören Hoika, who now runs tours to the completed IBA attractions. “The idea is to build a connection to the past and to the environment.”

An aerial view of Zwenkau lake in Zwenkau, Germany. Flooding old mines have created huge network of lakes in Lusatia.
Photograph: Jan Woitas/EPA

IBA came to Lusatia in 2000 and stayed 11 years; 30 projects for new landscapes appeared across the region. They include marinas and sandy beaches that offer incoming tourists boating and watersports opportunities, a former power plant restored for art exhibits and techno parties, towers where tourists can gaze over the former mines, and a former mine purposely left untouched, its low ridges and basin floor slowly being retaken by grass, marshland, insects, and birds.

The rehabilitation process has not been free of hiccups and opponents, and decades of lignite mining have left scars that will take many years to heal. Recently, parts of the River Spree turned rust-orange, a result of the increased iron hydroxide dislodged from the soil by years of mining. The river flows north through the Lusatia mining areas, collecting harmful chemicals along the way. There are fears that the polluted water could reach the protected forest and river haven of Spreewald, and even all the way to Berlin.

Some residents, especially those who have lived here for many years, dislike the changes. “They are very conflicted,” Höika said. “They want to be proud of their past. That was one of the most important things IBA had to learn. How to work with locals, how to celebrate the mining history and at the same time create a nice and interesting new area.”

“Their whole lives they believed this was an area where work is important,” Wolf added. “It was dirty and polluted because it had to be. When they first learned that IBA had brought people to see the mess and the destruction, they were ashamed.”

Still, most residents hope the future belongs to tourism. 500,000 tourists stayed overnight last year in the lake district , according to Marcus Heberle at the tourism board. Beside the new lakes there are hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and theatres; guides offer tours along an industrial heritage route, showing off the vast briquette factory in Knappenrode and an 11,000-ton conveyor bridge in nearby Lichterfeld. Coal may have scarred this land, but its legacy is driving new life into the region. “By 2025, we hope to have a million guests per year,” Heberle said. “The people want to come.”

Bathers enjoy the water at a beach at Bärwalder See lake near Boxberg, Germany.
Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For Pritzen, where these changes are less noticeable, the fact that the town is still here – and now a scenic lakeside village – is remarkable. The flooding of the old mine began in 1998 and the water level is still rising. For now, the village remains a sleepy place, as if the trauma of its close brush with destruction still lingers.

“We don’t get too many visitors,” said Ute Dabow as a few Pritzen residents gathered around her mobile bakery, parked at Pritzen’s only intersection, to buy bread and baked goods on a chilly late summer day. The frangrant smell of pine and tilled earth wet from the previous night’s rain wafted across the silent streets, mingling with the aroma of Dabow’s fresh brotchen and pastries. Oak trees shadowed a soccer field overgrown by weeds.

“It’s much better than it once was,” said Herbert Glatz, a retired farmer and lifelong Pritzen resident who was born here in 1935. “The mine was extremely loud. The dirt and dust was so thick it would block out the lights of cars on the streets.” Some people are returning and building new houses, said Herbert’s granddaughter Michaela. “This” – she gestured across the street – “all this is new.”

Around the village, IBA installed a handful of sculptures, turned one of the only old barns that survived the mining era into a place for art exhibits and performances, and set up “The Hand,” a Stonehenge-like circle of concrete pillars built atop a small hill overlooking the lake. Defaced by graffiti and overgrown by waist-high weeds, the sculpture looks somewhat forlorn. But it provides a picturesque panorama of the new landscape.

In the distance, across the glinting waters of the lake, windmills turned slowly. Beside a bike path at the bottom of the hill, the dancing leaves of aspen trees shivered in the breeze. All was quiet except for a faraway rumble of construction machinery, as the lake silently continues to fill, obscuring the scars of the area’s exploited past.

Families enjoy landscape art near Pritzen.
Photograph: IBA Archive

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Nature primary program redefines the classroom

Forests, creeks, beaches and meadows aren’t normally considered classrooms, but they’ve become regular places of learning for nature primary students at Davis Bay Elementary School.

The 33 nature primary students in kindergarten to Grade 3 have been involved in the nature program since its inception last September and teachers are praising the new curriculum.

“An ever-growing body of research affirms that children who grow up playing and learning in ways and spaces closely connected to the natural world grow up to develop habits of mind and ways of being that demonstrate sincere respect for their environment and the creatures in it,” said nature primary program teacher Linda Russell.

“It affirms that these ‘nature kids’ develop greater self-esteem, confidence, resilience, resourcefulness and creativity. Most teachers also know that when the subject of children’s learning is real and relevant to them, they don’t need a further invitation to investigate. Personally I believe that learning is usually richer outside of classroom walls.”

She and fellow nature primary teacher Jenny Groves take students outside daily from morning until lunch for experiential learning opportunities at places like Davis Bay beach, Mission Point Park or the Chapman Creek trails.

The mornings outside make for more attentive students in the afternoon when they return to portable classrooms dubbed the cocoon and the hive.

“After a morning outside, 30 minutes of math indoors later on is met with eyes wide open, eagerness and clear thinking,” Russell said. “I am amazed how quickly the children engage and pick up new concepts.”

Nature primary students are taught all the same subjects other primary students learn, however the order in which they learn could vary because teachers take advantage of whatever learning opportunity presents itself.

“Place-based, experiential learning is at our philosophical core, and it demands some flexibility because places we visit constantly surprise us,” Russell noted.

Principal Sally Thicke is pleased with the program, which she believes provides deeper connections for students than what’s traditionally found in classrooms.

She wanted to bring the nature primary program to Davis Bay Elementary School because she saw the benefit of outdoor learning in her own life.

“Some of my own richest experiences have been learning in nature and in environmental programs,” she said. “My desire was to find a way that every day would be rich outside and experiential for the kids. I think they are healthier and are developing more grit and know deeply what’s around them.”

To find out more about the nature primary program or to register a primary student for the upcoming school year, come to an information evening about the nature primary program on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. at Davis Bay Elementary School.

More information can also be found at or by calling the school at 604-885-9523.

© Coast Reporter

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