Who We Are
The Botanic Gardens Education Network (BGEN) promotes and advances the delivery of education in member organisations. We are a specialist support and training network for professionals working in education related to plants and the natural world. The network has more than 200 members, most of whom are educators in botanic gardens and other centres of environmental education in the UK and Ireland. Anyone is welcome to join BGEN, though as a support network, those likely to gain the most benefit are professional biodiversity educators within the UK. You can learn more about our members and our work in the sections highlighted below.
|BGEN promotes the enormously positive role that active, plant-based learning can play in educational settings. But what exactly do we mean by 'plant-based education'?|
Once a year, the Eden Project is taken over by ‘Freaky Nature’ – a season of fun, interactive learning activities that introduce visitors to the weird and wonderful world of plants.
The Freaky Nature season features a wide range of family-friendly activities based around unusual plants and their strange habits. One of the highlights is the Freaky Plant Tour, where visitors can discover poisonous, carnivorous and exploding plants, as well as those whose bizarre features help them survive.
The Sticky Survival and Seed Bomb areas give visitors a chance to learn about seed dispersal – they can experience life as a burdock seed by putting on a sticky suit and hurling themselves at a Velcro wall, and then head into the lab to have a go at making exploding seed bombs.
Other activities include Big It Up, where people can examine plants through powerful microscopes and talk to scientists about what they see, and Bug Boutique, where younger visitors can dress up as a bug or flower.
Freaky Nature is designed to be a fun, interactive learning experience for the whole family. “The more hands-on an activity is, the more likely people are to engage with it,” explains Eden’s programme producer Emma Hogg.
“We want families and groups to play and learn alongside one another, so we try to make sure that each activity has something to offer younger and older visitors.”
Feedback from visitors suggests that the hands-on approach is hitting the mark, with people describing Freaky Nature activities as, "interactive for everyone", and, “good for my 2-year-old and my 12-year-old”.
Paignton Zoo’s gardens team set Devon’s primary schools the challenge of designing a sustainable school garden, and then headed back to school to build the winning design.
Keen to inspire local schools to take up sustainable gardening, Paignton Zoo launched the Grow Up! competition in 2009. Developed in partnership with NPS South West, who maintain most of Devon's schools, the competition invited the county’s primary schools to design their own sustainable garden.
Paignton Zoo’s curator of plants and gardens, Kevin Frediani, explains the aims of the competition: “Plants and gardens have so much to offer schools and we’d love to see more children benefit from access to a school garden.
"As well as being a fantastic resource for learning about topics such as sustainability and biodiversity, gardens give pupils a chance to engage with the natural world, grow their own food and have lots of fun gardening.”
The winning design
The Grow Up! judging panel, led by BBC Gardener’s World presenter and Devon resident Toby Buckland, chose Landscove Primary School’s entry as the winning design. Their garden features three ‘B’ shaped raised beds – representing birds, butterflies and bees – where vegetables and herbs can be grown in rotation throughout the school year.
The Landscove Primary garden was entered into the Devon County Show 2010, where it won a silver medal, before being installed as a permanent feature at the school.
Pupils at the school played a big part in turning their design into reality. They worked with local artists to make mosaics and tiles for the garden and grew annual crops in ‘zoo poo’ compost. Other sustainable features in the garden include the use of local and reclaimed materials, and a rainwater harvesting system.
Several times a year, members of Bristol Drugs Project join volunteer work parties at Westonbirt to carry out essential maintenance tasks in the arboretum.
The volunteering partnership started in April 2009, when Westonbirt invited a group of Bristol Drugs Project members to take part in a day of voluntary work.
The new volunteers helped out with coppicing, working alongside Westonbirt’s education and interpretation team and a work party of regular volunteers.
“We’re always looking for ways to introduce the benefits of engaging with woodlands to people who might not usually think about visiting an arboretum,” explains Ben Oliver, Learning and Participation Manager at Westonbirt. “Practical voluntary work can be a really positive experience for people recovering from drug or alcohol problems – it’s a chance to learn new skills, reintegrate into the community and gain a sense of achievement.”
Building skills and confidence
Feedback from the coppicing day showed that the Bristol Drugs Project volunteers got a lot out of their experience. One participant commented: “The day out at Westonbirt Arboretum enabled us to see that a life beyond drug use is possible and that we are capable of achieving it. It gave us a memory of a real experience where we had an amazing day without the aid of drugs and alcohol, working in a stunningly beautiful place, forging new relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds.”
Bristol Drugs Project members now join work parties at Westonbirt four times a year, helping out with tasks ranging from laying hedges to building and repairing dry-stone walls. Westonbirt’s regular volunteers act as informal mentors to the Bristol Drugs Project volunteers, helping them to develop new skills and knowledge, as well as confidence.
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