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David McCann   Mon 01 Jul 2024   updated: Tue 02 Jul 2024

The Eco-Schools programme, a renowned global initiative led by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that aims to create environmental awareness and action, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in Northern Ireland. The milestone was marked with a celebration event at Stranmillis University College this week with over 500 people attending including teachers and pupils. Established in 1994 to involve young people in finding solutions to environmental and sustainable development challenges, the programme is operated locally by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and supported by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), local authorities and a range of other partners.

Northern Ireland’s record of success in the programme over the last three decades is significant. The Green Flag, an international accreditation for the environmental education and performance of schools, has been awarded to 2253 schools across the region to date. Northern Ireland was also the first in the world to award a Green Flag to one of its schools - Downpatrick Nursery in 1994. The 1000th Green Flag was awarded to Walker Memorial Primary School in Dungannon in 2017.

Over the course of the two-day event, supported by RiverRidge and Translink, a variety of awards were presented to schools, recognising their outstanding achievements in environmental stewardship and sustainable practices.

The Green Flag Awards accredited and reaccredited schools with Green Flag Status, whilst the Wheelie Big Challenge Awards funded by Antrim and Newtownabbey Council, Belfast City Council, Mid and East Antrim Council, Lisburn and Castlereagh Council and Natural World Products was given to schools with strong waste management initiatives.

The Eco-School of the year Award was sponsored by Nexus, whilst the Eco-Teacher of the Year and the Eco-Pupil of the Year was sponsored by Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE). Pupils who participated in the international Young Reporters from the Environment (YRE) programme were also acknowledged.

Carol Forster, Head of Business Development at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said, “Our journey over the past 30 years has been remarkable. I commend our schools across Northern Ireland for their steadfast commitment in inspiring young people to care for the world around them. We’ve seen countless young people grow into environmentally conscious citizens, equipped with the knowledge and passion to make a difference.

“The Eco-Schools programme aligns with our wider organisational vision. We believe that through education, engagement and empowerment, we can change behaviours so that everyone can enjoy a beautiful, resilient, and healthy environment.

“This event not only serves as a platform to celebrate our continued achievements, but also as an urgent reminder on how important it is to continue to inspire and invest in our youth to ensure that future generations actively participate in environmental stewardship. We’re grateful to all our partners for their continued support and strongly encourage more schools to join the programme to give every child in Northern Ireland the opportunity to get involved.”

Rob Belt, Eco-Coordinator at Bessbrook Primary School who has been delivering his school’s programme, said, “Eco-Schools has changed how our young people see and engage with their environment. It integrates environmental awareness and action into all fabrics of day-to-day school life. Retaining our Green Flag status is tremendously important to our school as it is the benchmark that tells us we’re doing good by our students and by the environment.”

A key highlight of the anniversary event was the launch of Generation Nature – a new outdoor learning demonstration site at Stranmillis University College which will provide trainee teachers with the hands-on experience and practical skills essential for continuing the success of the Eco-Schools programme. The project has been developed in partnership with the college and is supported by Energia’s Greener Possibilities Fund.

Dr David McKee at Stranmillis University College said, “It's essential we continue to integrate environmental education into teacher training in Northern Ireland, to ensure that new teachers are equipped with the tools and the knowledge needed to strengthen our collective performance in Eco-Schools. Generation Nature will play an essential role in this endeavour – it’s a wonderful addition to the teacher training experience.”

Leo McKillion of RiverRidge, Northern Ireland’s leading waste and resource management company said, “We were delighted to be involved in this event. It is vital that we continue to both educate and listen to the next generation as we all strive to live in a more sustainable world. RiverRidge believes that schools play a key role in changing the environment by reducing waste and treating it as a valuable resource. Let’s keep working together to spread the word and change behaviour.”

For more information, please visit www.eco-schoolsni.org

Winter 2019 Newsletter

---   Wed 10 Jul 2019   updated: Wed 13 Jan 2021

Our Winter 2018 newsletter is available online.