Martha Devine, RSPB Scotland’s Community Engagement Officer in Shetland describes her delight at receiving a Shetland Environmental Award for innovative work with schools and explains more about the project. 

Yesterday, Karen Mackelvie our Community Learning Officer went to receive a Shetland Environmental Award. She was thrilled to accept the honour which was for RSPB Scotland’s (mainly her) work facilitating the Nature Friendly Schools Project (now called Giving Nature a Home) at Brae Primary and other schools throughout Shetland. The award recognises projects which have contributed to Shetland’s rich and diverse environment whilst demonstrating sustainability, innovation and best practice. 

Martha Devine (left) and Karen Mackelvie (right) delighted after receiving the award.

We were really pleased that Brae and Whiteness Primary schools also received awards for their hard work and for getting parents and the wider community involved in the final day of the project – a ‘Day of Action’ that transformed their school grounds. 

Getting stuck in at the 'Day of Action' at Brae Primary


The Nature Friendly Schools project (Giving Nature a Home) is all about connecting children to nature using play. It gets classes thinking about their environment and making improvements for wildlife by providing more homes for nature in the school grounds. We’re talking ponds, bug hotels, wildflowers and long grass areas, bird feeding stations and frog pads – to name a few. 

Buggingham palace and giant wood pile at Whiteness Primary

But the Nature Friendly Schools project doesn’t stop there. Research has shown that children build deep and lasting connections with nature, not when they are shown something by an adult but when they discover it themselves during play. So this project also encourages schools to allow children the opportunity to build a love for wildlife through connecting with nature during play. In the nature areas we’ve created things like stepping stones, climbing trees, den building material and shelters made from upturned boats, recycled pallets and tree trunks. 

Stepping stones at Whiteness Primary and den building at Brae Primary


How does the project work?

After an introductory session with the school which includes risk assessment and a look at the science behind the project, RSPB Scotland runs three sessions with the bairns (children). Session one is an audit of the school grounds. We do the Big Schools Birdwatch ( followed by a soil and earthworm audit. Then we map the school grounds. Different habitats are identified as well as places the bairns most like or don’t like to play. Session two is an introduction to project planning. Using cooperative learning techniques the bairns come up with a wish list for the school grounds and work out everything they need to deliver it. Then they write to the community, parents, grandparents, friends, local businesses to ask for help with everything they need for their final session – the Day of Action.

So far we’ve completed three ‘Days of Action’ in Shetland. Following requests from the bairns, all the items needed were donated and time and skills were offered up willingly on the day by folk in the community. Some of the men-folk were especially glad for a chance to help out in the school with something that doesn’t involve baking or knitting. A request for dumper trucks, diggers and tools was more appealing to them! The results have been quite breathtaking. The energy generated contagious. On every occasion we have been staggered by all that has been achieved in just one short school day. By working together, we have successfully created homes for wildlife and places designed by the children where they can get closer to nature.


So what’s next?

Whilst the ‘Day of Action’ marks the end of our part in the project, it’s only really the beginning for the schools. The project to create a nature friendly school is ongoing and indeed many new play items and homes for nature have been added to the nature areas through further ‘Days of Action’ organised by the school. As for us, we’re looking forward to starting two new projects this winter – at Dunrossness Primary in the south of Shetland and Mid Yell Junior High in the north.