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Campus Rewilding in the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-30)

Sun 25th September 2022 - Blog Posts, Schools and early learning & childcare settings

LfSS Steering Group member Duncan Zuill shares the latest about his campus rewilding project at Levenmouth Academy in Fife. This is an update from his last blog posts in September 2022 and January 2020; both of which can be read below.

Update: January 2023: Rewilding for a Healthier School

We’re encouraging schools to use this spring as an opportunity to make a space for nature on campus – and we’re delighted that Architecture and Design Scotland have now featured my presentation about rewilding for a healthier school.

Want to hear more about what we’re doing? Follow the links below!

It’s worth noting that this organisation is also looking for schools to take part in the “Climate Ready School Grounds Project” that is currently underway with their partners, Learning through Landscapes.

Update: September 2022: Campus Rewilding in the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-30)

In 2017, I convinced my school of the value of a campus rewilding project. 10 acres (2 hectares) of our campus is presently growing wild. . Biodiversity has been partially restored: common green grasshoppers, common darters (a red dragonfly), mallard ducks and black sexton beetles are here now because we have repaired broken habitats on our campus. These species found this year had not been seen on our campus in previous years. Our little ecosystem has been partially restored. 2021-30 is the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, so I feel like I’m on to something.

People do grow plants – but plants also grow people. We now understand more about the connection between campus vegetation and mental well-being. Recent studies have shown the positive contribution that greenery and wildlife make.

Recent books such as The Well Gardened Mind, The Natural Health Service, Rewilding Childhood and projects such as Incredible Edible, Knepp Wildland and Earthwatch Europe’s Tiny Forests Project now afford a compelling consensus that restoring habitat in and around towns and schools is hugely beneficial.

From an exotic pot plant on a desk to a native forest sheltering the whole community; plants improve Life.

I first encountered rewilding on Facebook as a battle ground between hunters and animal rights activists.

If that’s your experience, please put your phone away. I’ve started to understand rewilding better thanks to Cain Blythe & Paul Jepson’s book on the subject. It’s not just about beavers and wolves. ‘Rewilding: the Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery’ is very informative and I’m glad I paid the extra for the picture-book version. It brings research evidence to what Isabella Tree experienced and described in her fascinating book about Knepp Wildland. Put on the spot, I think rewilding is the reconstruction of an ecosystem that sustains itself where people live responsibly enough not to make a mess of it.

The UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration is going to be a time of rewilding, and rewilding presents us with a new set of learning experiences. For rewilding costs almost nothing, and it changes our values in a scientifically-informed way. It is so sustainable that it exists outside of our grant-driven, GDP-centred, capitalist mindsets. Rewilding is all about growth and benefits but, like life itself, it is very hard to monetise and value it. That day might come and the term ‘rewilding millionaire’ will enter our lexicon.

Until then, we’ll look after our grasshoppers and beetles. We are sustainably developing a new biodiversity on our barren school playing fields.

Further Reading.

Rewilding: the Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery (2020) by Cain Blythe & Paul Jepson

Rewilding Childhood: Raising Children who are Adventurous, Resilient and Free (2022) By Mike Fairclough

The Natural Health Service: How Nature Can Mend Your Mind (2021) by Isabel Hardman

The Well Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature (2020) by Sue Stuart-Smith.

Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm (2019) by Isabella Tree.

January 2020: Forested schools: rewilding unused playing field land in Fife, Scotland

Here newly elected LfS Scotland Steering Group member, Duncan Zuill, explores the potential for Scotland’s school grounds to play their part in responding to the global climate and ecological crisis.

I am part of a Bill Clinton Global Initiative team dedicated to the rewilding project described below. We have two aims: to enable parts of the playing fields do their bit to capture carbon dioxide and save the planet and secondly, to create suitable places for school-based outdoor learning experiences. The basic idea is to identify and reclassify unused parts of school playing fields. Simply not mowing unused parts of the playing fields is the first step towards rewilding. At Levenmouth Academy in Fife we’ve already got about a hectare of playing field land which has not been mown for a year, and we like it. In Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning (2010) we are told that:

The Scottish Government’s School Estate Strategy requires local authorities to ‘consider how to make the best use of school grounds and the outdoor spaces as an integral part of the learning environment ensuring that landscape design is at a par with building design.’ A long-term authority-wide vision for school grounds through School Estate Management Plans will help maximise their potential as a learning environment’.  The Scottish Government’s Learning for Sustainability Action Plan (2019) confirms that All school buildings, grounds and policies should support Learning for Sustainability’.

Yet, so many of our playing fields are designed for easy maintenance rather than meaningful outdoor learning experiences.  

From a scientific point of view, the carbon capture of a rewilded area compared to a playing field is impressive. For example, a lawn is carbon neutral (arguably) whereas a rewilded native Scottish woodland will capture approximately 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year. We are taking baby steps towards capturing 4 tonnes of CO2 per hectare/year. I would say that within 15 years of rewilding & tree planting, the project could claim to be capturing 3 tonnes per hectare/year. There is a lot of playing field land in Scotland which could start on this journey but it’ll take someone local to identify those places and ensure that they grow. All that would be required in the short term would be to identify the right areas and mow around them. 

At Levenmouth Academy, we already have a total of 1 hectare uncut, the grassy islands are popular with the public who live nearby and they like the long grass, which breaks up the monotonous look of the playing fields. The wildflowers help promote biodiversity and pet dogs like to run in them. One day there will be wildlife to explore there. If you would like to connect with this project and make a form of rewilding happen at your school, please get in touch. 

Duncan Zuill, teacher, Levenmouth Academy,

Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy – could more school playing fields look like this?