Science, Communities and Nature: a Teacher's Resource

Happy, truly, is the naturalist. He has no time for melancholy dreams. The earth becomes to him transparent; everywhere he sees significancies,

harmonies, laws, chains of cause and effect endlessly interlinked, which draw him out of the

narrow sphere of self-interest

and self-pleasing, into a pure and wholesome region of solemn joy and wonder.

Charles Kingsley: 'Glaucus; or the Wonders of the Shore', (1855)

European educationalists of the mid-nineteenth century, such as Charles Kingsley, were responsible for setting a long lasting biological agenda to engage people with nature, which stressed the importance of seeking 'wonder in every insect, sublimity in every hedgerow, past worlds in every pebble, and boundless fertility upon the barren shore'. This broad philosophy from an age of serendipity, and education for its own sake, is now all but played out. Our essentially urban culture, the time, budgetary and subject constraints of a national curriculum, the imagined dangers of being outdoors, media hype of endangered global ecosystems, and above all, the educational emphasis on molecules rather than organisms, have produced a generation of class-bound teachers focused on DNA. Experts are now required to provide their school with a nature walk, and work sheets about its commonplace plants and animals. The comparative study of body plans through dissection is banned from the classroom. Youngsters grow up to live in an adults world where people and nature are poles apart.pean

Paradoxically, it was the political commitments made by the majority of world leaders at Rio di Janiero in 1992, that has pointed to the need for a revival in nature study in the broader context of the impact of local economic development on urban communities. This is an important area of applied cultural ecology.


The Schools Communities and Nature project (SCAN) developed in Wales as a practical response to Rio in the 1990s. It originated within the Dyfed County Council's teacher's advisory service from the response of schools in Pembrokeshire by the Sea Empress oil spill. It involved primary and secondary schools in Pembrokeshire piloting simple classroom methods for pupils of all ages to probe the quality of life in their communities. The aim of SCAN was to alert children to the character of their surroundings, and establish a features database that lists the good and bad things in their neighbourhood.

Agenda 21, which has now been updated by the UN's 2030 world development strategy, is about getting involved to improve your local patch. If children are to be taken out of school for environmental education, there is a strong argument that it would be a far better use of limited resources to provide a framework for them to interrogate their local community's concerns for environmental improvements In this way they could come to grips with the day to day problems, issues and challenges of environmental management in the heart of their community. This experience would equip them to help plan and manage their own patch, at school, or at home. It is also a practical route to active citizenship.

SCAN teachers collaborated to produce a manual entitled Systems of Sustainability in 1999 and an Introduction to SCAN. These are attached to this page as pdf documents for downloading. An online bilingual version of SCAN was established by the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff, which promotes surveys of local biodiversity and experiments on climate change across Welsh, English and Scottish schools.


NowSCAN is a development of the original school SCAN where the emphasis is on promoting neighbourhood citizen action plans for increased well-being. It was initiated in UK by the Conservation Management System Consortium iwith a grant from the EC LIFE Environment programme in the late 1990s as an online resource to engage people with managing the ecosystem services of their neighbourhoods. NowSCAN's message is that there are really many different approaches and methods, to enhance people's understanding of what is special about where they live. They should all be encouraged. Many are traditional ways to study local wildlife that go back to the age of the pioneer nature watchers, such as Gilbert White, Charles Darwin and Charles Kingsley. Others, might take up the need for a broader environmental appraisal that covers issues such as transport, crime, litter, jobs, and energy use. Yet more should have stimuli to study questions surrounding human evolution and and its expressions at a cellular level. NowSCAN is there to stimulate flows of information, methods, ideas and data; person to person, family to family and country to country.

There is a mind map which presents environmental action as a co-production between schools, communities and government in the context of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act of 2015.

Go to mind map of 'Lifelong Learning for Future Generations'

Prof Denis Bellamy 'NOW:SCAN' Co-ordinator