RSPB Scotland volunteer Michaela Barton, reports. 

On December 11, high school environmentalists gathered at the Glasgow Science Centre to discuss a 30-year plan for Glasgow’s green future.

The conference was the culmination of the Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival, which started in April, and was celebrating 30 years since the Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988. Throughout the summer months, over 50 groups and organisations came together to celebrate and enhance green spaces all across Glasgow. Groups involved ran events, and helped build ponds, wild flower meadows, bird boxes and pollinator highways.

As part of the festival's legacy, six groups spread across the city also received grants of up to £700 to fund urban conservation, with a focus on benefiting young people and communities. The funding was provided by ScotRail and helped support projects such as the construction of a sensory area for young children and their parents, and a community garden that provides produce to local food banks and community organisations.

The closing Youth Conference was delivered in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) as part of the Year of Young People 2018, which encouraged those aged 8-26 to platform their talents, ideas and help design their futures. It was aimed at secondary school students with an interest in being the next generation of designers, architects, engineers and ecologists.

In one of the opening speeches, Kerry Wallace, SNH Area Manager for Strathclyde and Aryshire, said: “Children now spend less time outside than prisoners.” The need to encourage a love of nature in young people is obvious.  

Glasgow Science Centre was packed with over 90 passionate young environmentalists, all eager to share their brilliant plans for Glasgow’s green spaces and help inspire a similar enthusiasm for nature in their community. The schools present were Hillhead High School, Hyndland Secondary School, Rosshall Academy, Springburn Academy, St Andrews Academy, Sunnyside Primary School and Williamwood High School.

Students were allocated time in their workshop sessions to brainstorm potential plans for their local areas and create a model to demonstrate their vision. Amongst the chaos of colourful tissue paper and loose toilet roll centres, rose seven ingenious infrastructure plans. Ideas included: nature highways to bridge the gaps caused by road structures, allowing easier movement for wildlife; bird boxes to help the declining urban swift population; and rooftop gardens to better utilise unused space. 

The winning team was from Sunnyside Primary School, with their design of a bird-watching tower adorned with bird boxes, including a pond to attract aquatic wildlife, and a subterranean level for watching moles, voles and insects.

When asked why they thought conservation was so important, two students from Sunnyside Primary School said: “You can either sit there and do nothing and be sad, or you can get up and do something. We’d rather do something.” Each year, a group at Sunnyside Primary School from primary one to seven has a different topic to learn. The primary seven year group have a letter-sending campaign where they contact large companies about their environmental impact, they’ve even tried their hand changing Donald Trump’s mind about climate change.

The conference also gave students a chance to share their on-going projects with one another. One such presentation was from the Friends of Springburn Park project. Springburn Park has undergone massive renovations thanks to the hard work of young environmentalists. Funded by Tesco’s “Bags of Help” scheme, managed by Greenspace Scotland, the previously run-down open area is now an inviting space for the community to enjoy.

Hillhead High School also discussed their work creating a pollinator highway through Glasgow’s West End. Students have recycled bins into flower planters and created a trail for bees to move down Gibson Street safely. This addition to the West End should aid in a healthier biodiversity while also supporting bee populations.

The talent and enthusiasm shown by every student at the Youth Conference was an inspiration and every person present proved themselves to be future world changers. If the planet’s in their hands, maybe our environment will survive and thrive.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part in and supported the Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival in 2018, in particular: SNH, Glasgow City Council, ScotRail, The Glasgow Science Centre, Mactaggart and Mickel, and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It’s been a fantastic year, which we hope has left a green legacy across the city and inspire more people to get involved in saving nature.