Mary Colwell, Professor Alastair Fitter, Professor Russell Wynn Written evidence (EDU0032)



Nature-based solutions to a range of economic problems (food production, water availability and quality, climate regulation and preservation of biodiversity) is essential.

It is now accepted that successful economies need to become environmentally sustainable. The climate crisis has led to that recognition, but the equally severe – and completely interlocked – biodiversity crisis receives much less attention in economic discussions, despite the conclusions from the government’s own review, The Economics of Biodiversity – The Dasgupta Review, published in February 2021:

Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on our most precious asset: Nature. We are part of Nature, not separate from it. We rely on Nature to provide us with food, water and shelter; regulate our climate and disease; maintain nutrient cycles and oxygen production; and provide us with spiritual fulfilment and opportunities for recreation and recuperation, which can enhance our health and well-being. …Biodiversity enables Nature to be productive, resilient and adaptable. Just as diversity within a portfolio of financial assets reduces risk and uncertainty, so diversity within a portfolio of natural assets increases Nature’s resilience to shocks, reducing the risks to Nature’s services. Reduce biodiversity, and Nature and humanity suffer.


We must manage ecosystems effectively and that requires an understanding of the organisms that form those ecosystems.

It follows that delivering nature-based solutions requires a workforce with skills that go beyond technology and engineering.

Nature literacy is also essential for biodiversity net gain (BNG), a strategy to ensure that developed land also contributes to the recovery of nature.

The skills of the naturalist are, therefore, essential for the future and derive from studying natural history, an increasingly unfashionable branch of knowledge that we have been, and are, losing. 

This note sets out a pathway that will lead to a recovery of that necessary discipline.



Over the last 50 years, the skills of the naturalist have increasingly been lost, but they are vital to re-learn, not just because we are missing out on fascination and wonder, and not just because nature is good for our minds and souls, but because we need naturalists more than ever in human history. The changes taking place in nature are indicators of the health of the planet and we must know how to read them.

It is now an oft quoted phrase from WWF that the UK is “one of the most nature depleted countries on Earth.” We live in an impoverished land, but it is not just the UK. The startling fact is that over the last half century the world has lost 60% of the mass of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.

Studies at the University of Derby show that young people lose their interest in nature at around the age of 11 and may not recover it until they are in their 30s. The knock-on effects are that many young people today have little contact with, and know little about, once common wildlife. As far back as 1998, Sir David Attenborough expressed dismay at the lack of knowledge about nature revealed by a poll of 700 children between the age of 9 and 11. BBC Wildlife magazine conducted the survey and it showed that only half knew a bluetit or bluebell, and less than a third could identify a frog. “The wild world is becoming so remote to children that they miss out," he said, "and an interest in the natural world doesn't grow as it should. Nobody is going to protect the natural world unless they understand it." In the intervening twenty-five years we have lost even more wildlife. We have also experienced an increase in mental health issues with young people, something that is alleviated by contact with the natural world.



On 21 April 2022, the Department of Education approved the development of a GCSE in Natural History, the result of 11 years of campaigning and a defining moment. It was one vital step in the process of creating a nature-literate society capable of taking on the challenges of the emerging green economy, but it needs to be embedded in a wider remit.

What is badly needed is a defined nature pathway through education from junior school through to the end of tertiary. Embedding the skills of the naturalist into education will produce a knowledgeable workforce who will make the right decisions about protecting nature and developing the economy. As the Dasgupta Review states:

Establishing the natural world in education policy is therefore essential. The development and design of environmental education programmes can help to achieve tangible impact, for example by focusing on local issues, and collaborating with scientists and community organisations.



The study, published in the Royal Society journal, Proceedings B, analysed trends in populations of more than 600 different species of birds and mammals and found that declines were accelerating, and we are behind the target of halting wildlife loss and protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030. This date is also when young people who take the GCSE in 2026 will be leaving school and entering jobs or further education, but at present there is no defined nature pathway. Zoologists, geographers, and biologists are not necessarily taught naturalist skills, rather, the focus is on large scale systems and processes.

Tony Juniper, the chair of Natural England, sees the lack of naturalists as a major issue. If even the new zoologists we are training don't know a wood warbler from a whitethroat, what chance will we have in reversing the mass extinction that is now exploding around us?”

It is therefore essential that the GCSE is adopted widely and that a defined pathway beyond is established. However, schools may need support to deliver the GCSE. Some will lack confidence in their ability to teach the subject, they may lack resources and may need guidance in fieldwork.



We propose to pilot a blended finance model at several geographic locations around England from autumn 2024 onwards, to demonstrate how partnership working between local schools, administrative bodies, and naturalist and farmer groups can provide a framework for delivery of a nature education pathway. Cash funding and in-kind contributions will be sourced locally from businesses, naturalist societies, conservation NGOs, local authorities, and other sources, and will be combined with funding generated nationally through philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, and government (DoE) funding.

A small core team and expert advisory panel will be assembled to provide co-ordination of these pilot projects, but most resources will be directed towards actions that 1) provide pupils with direct access to nature in the field, and 2) ensure teachers have the training and tools to provide confidence in delivery. For example, secondary schools in the pilot areas who wish to offer the GCSE in Natural History will be given teacher training and support, equipment resources such as field guides, microscopes, outdoor clothing etc, and bursaries to help with the costs of teaching the GCSE. They will also be linked up with local naturalists and farmers to enable site access and appropriate ecological and land management expertise.

In addition to working with local schools and naturalists/farmers, we would also seek to engage with appropriate national professional bodies such as ASE, the Association for Science Education.

We will also explore the establishment of nature education at higher levels than GCSE, e.g., an ‘A’ Level in Natural History, increased content in universities, colleges (including agricultural colleges) and teacher training, providing a defined path for those who wish to take the study of nature to a deeper level.

We are currently in discussion with potential sponsors and identifying the pilot project areas and would be delighted to provide further details as required.


27 April 2023