I first came up with the idea of a GCSE in Natural History in 2011 and mentioned it to Tony Juniper, now head of Natural England. Tony loved it and wrote an article for The Guardian.
In 2017, I launched a government petition which quickly got over 10,000 signatures but was pulled early due to the snap election. Journalist and former environment editor of the Independent, Michael McCarthy, wrote articles in the Independent and also in the Guardian.
In 2018, Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, contacted me to offer support.
The government have promised schools there will be no new qualifications in the life of this parliament (still Conservative 2019), but Nick Gibb the Schools Minister, is keen to progress it if they win another term. And if the government changes, we keep going!
The first advisory meeting with Caroline to explore this idea further took place on October 9th in the beautiful and inspirational Linnean Society on Piccadilly in central London .
This is the original flyer I put together:
GCSE - An overview
Over the last 40 years the Uk has lost 50% of the mass of its wildlife. Half as many birds, insects, mammals, wildflowers and amphibians live along side us. Bird song has thinned, the buzz around the flowers is quieter and there is less colour in the fields.
This is sad for many reasons, not least because we need other life to support our agriculture, provide healthy soils and clean air and pure water. Important as these services obviously are, there are other reasons to lament the loss of British wildlife. The sight, sound and activity of life on earth inspires in us all kinds of creativity. Human beings are drawn to other life and have expressed that in many ways. We have painted animals on cave walls, written about them from the earliest times, used them to express our deepest fears and hopes in folklore, tales and poems. To lose the natural world is to lose so much of what makes us human.
The UK has historically been deeply tied to nature. We have the best studied flora, fauna, geology and geography of any country on earth. We also have some of the best nature writers, poets and artists. But today we are in danger of losing that precious tradition. To lose all this is a tragedy.
Combine this with the sad fact that children spend far less time out of doors and are less connected to nature than ever before in human history and we have a perfect storm brewing for the wildlife of the UK. The less we engage with it, the less we know it and the less we care if it is no longer there. It is time we put nature back into the very heart of education, not as an add on but as a core subject that everyone should be taught at some level - and have the option to study in more depth if they want to.
I would like a GCSE in Natural History to teach the skills of identifying, monitoring and recording the life around us. To know about migration and invasion of species.To understand how the seasons affect wildlife and how that is changing. I would like the history of studying natural history to be taught, from the earliest pioneers to Darwin, and the great natural scientists today. And nature literature, from Gilbert White to Robert McFarlane. To understand how nature on TV and Radio affects conservation. There are so many strands to be explored.
It might be that a new connection between NGOs and education can be forged where naturalists go into schools to teach the field skills.
There are added benefits too, being with nature, working out there in the unpredictable and awe-inspiring world helps develop skills that are needed in jobs. Leadership skills, dealing with uncertainty, thinking on your feet, being adaptable, responding to change and so on.
The is GCSE will be a step towards producing the naturalists the country needs to protect its wildlife for the future and to help us deal with an increasingly uncertain world. As my Curlew Walk showed in 2016, we will lose precious species so quickly if we don’t produce the next generation with the skills to help protect the natural world.