Belfast Lough RSPB Reserve. Children Making masks and games. Girl cutting out mask. Northern Ireland

Nature education in Northern Ireland

The RSPB believes that sustainable development principles must lie at the core of the Northern Ireland education system, with educational establishments becoming vibrant showcases of sustainable development.

The support needed for sustainable schools

At the heart of these principles is our shared natural environment and all it provides for us today and will need to provide for future generations.

To date there is no cohesive policy providing a vision or setting out the support needed to realise this most fundamental step forward in Northern Ireland's future.

We believe the sustainability of a school is about far more than just its size and economic viability – it is about the role it plays within the community and environment, rural and urban, locally and globally, as a physical structure and a source of learning, inspiration, and action.

It is through recognising this diverse opportunity which we will not only provide all of our young people with an excellent quality of education, but also deliver the Northern Ireland Government's aspiration for a sustainable future.

In October 2007, the RSPB launched our own vision for Northern Ireland's sustainable schools, at Stormont. In this document - available to download on the right - the RSPB challenges government to redefine Sustainable Schools in Northern Ireland, and to devise policies and structures that will deliver schools and learning that are truly sustainable.


Building, inspiring and protecting our shared future. PDF, 1.1Mb.

Sustainable Schools in Northern Ireland

A report by Queen’s University Belfast for the RSPB. PDF, 2.0Mb.

Connection to Nature questionnaire on the Northern Ireland Kids Life and Times Survey

Building, inspiring and protecting

Through three cornerstones – building, inspiring and protecting – we demonstrate the diverse and complimentary ways in which schools contribute to sustainability.

The Northern Ireland Sustainable Development Strategy, ‘First Steps Towards Sustainability', launched in 2006 identified the contribution of education to sustainable development in NI and the subsequent Implementation Plan sets out a number of targets, all of which have merit, but lack overarching vision and cohesion.

The Office of the First Minister/Deputy First Minister (OFM/DFM) are due to publish a draft Sustainable Development Strategy for Northern Ireland, in the near future, to replace the 2006 strategy.

Following the 2006 Bain Review into the future of schools in Northern Ireland, the Department of Education (DENI) published its policy on sustainable schools in January 2009. However, this had much more to do with economic viability of schools than true (environmental) sustainability.

The future

So where do we go from here?

The RSPB is calling on the new administration to use its energy and the unique position of Sustainable Development - at the very heart of government - to create a vision and provide the necessary framework for sustainable schools in Northern Ireland to become a reality.

We are also inviting all contributors from formal and informal education, the public and private business sector, the environmental, development and community NGOs and everyone who seeks to make a difference to enter into a dialogue on this issue.