How we conceptualise and manage biodiversity are important questions for the future of humankind. This was highlighted at the Rio Environment Summit in 1992, and a framework for action emerged in the UK biodiversity action plan published in 1994. The U.K. action plan says that everyone must do their bit to improve local understanding of the way wildlife is affected by culture and lifestyle. The plan particularly urges people to establish 'citizen's environmental networks' to make comparisons, and generate local environmental action plans, to record, conserve, and increase the total variety of wildlife.

Roadside verg with Pilosella aurantiaca; (Orange hawkweed)
The problem is that we are reducing the world's stock of wildlife day by day. This is not just a feature of logging trees in the distant rainforest. Biodiversity decreases every time we build a house or road, every time a farmer plants a crop, and every time we tidy our gardens. The scale of these kinds of human activity is now so great that the checks and balances associated with evolution are being weakened. The resultant ecological instability, and the impoverishment and extinction of species that might benefit future cultures, present great challenges for environmental education.

Managing biodiversity is too important to be left only to wardens of nature sites. Teaching about the cultural importance of biodiversity should not be restricted only to scientists. Environmental education is much broader than environmental science, and requires an understanding of issues connected with local quality of life, and the cultural roots of the community. It also covers the power relationships between producers and consumers. Therefore there should be at least as many educational projections of biodiversity as there are school subjects. Also, it is important that these different views should be projected simultaneously to encourage flexible learning by cross references through time, place and subject. This is a role for computer assisted learning.

Grass-SCAN is about using grassy habitats of gardens, schools, heritage centres, parks, roadsides and pieces of wasteland as Ecoscopes to demonstrate the principles and practice of making community action plans. An ‘Ecoscope’ was defined as an important educational concept in the early 1990s by a group of teacher’s in Wales. As originally conceived it referred to a small, relatively simple ecosystem, such as a grassy patch, a group of trees or a pond, created in school grounds or a public open air environmental centre, with an action plan to show how people can make plans to improve the quality of their own lives, the communities in which they live, and societies of which they are a part. Ecoscope is an acronym of the concept ‘demonstrating the environmental control of species by creating operational planning exhibitions’. The group decided that creating a biodiversity action plan for such a microcosm is a good way to introduce people in the community to the logic and practice of making action plans for other issues of living sustainably.

Find out more about Ecoscopes (in the context of making community action plans)

Grass-SCAN takes grassland as a general example of applied science: a lawn or pasture is a deflected climax managed by biotic interference in the form of grazing, seasonal mowing, burning or weed spraying. It focuses the application of biological principles of grassland management on the selection of species and strains of grassland plants for maximum productivity, and stability, in particular situations, such as:-

  • the work of farmers who manage grazed grasslands of chalk downs, mountain pastures, and common lands, to maximise animal production;
  • the work of countryside managers operating management plans to maximise wildlife diversity of grazed habitats, adding or subtracting livestock, if over-, or under-grazing upsets their target species diversity;
  • the work of groundsmen who maintain public amenity lawns, bowling greens and sports fields;
  • the work of home gardeners who consume resources to maintain a garden lawn as a sustainable leisure activity; the question of 'To mow or not to mow? has a direct bearing on domestic activities as sustainable operations.

Grass-SCAN provides guidelines for schools and communities planning to manage patches of grassland as a neighbourhood biodiversity resource and as an outdoor laboratory for applied ecology.

It was developed and tested during the 1990s in an educational partnership between the Schools and Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN), the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) and The Conservation Management System Partnership (CMS)

A Grass-SCAN manual has been developed and promoted by the Going Green Directorate.

Download a practical manual for schools. This is the first draft and is being updated.