Our experts in the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research are developing innovative ways to inform and inspire students about the role trees play in the climate crisis, the ecosystem services they provide, and the threats they face.
At the heart of this activity, is the BIFoR FACE experiment, a large-scale, long-term experiment in a Staffordshire woodland in which mature oak trees are being treated with elevated carbon dioxide – at levels expected to be the norm in 50 years’ time.
This iconic and unique experiment is being used to illustrate physiological and ecological concepts to students from years 7 to 13 in ways that will both enthuse and empower them to take action on climate change.
As well as offering ‘in-person’ visits to the FACE experiment, we have built a virtual BIFoR FACE, where teachers and students can explore the site remotely, and find out about how the experiment is constructed and how it operates.
Accompanying education resources plug directly into existing school curricula. These off-the-shelf resources are designed for teachers to drop into their lessons and use up-to-the-minute scientific approaches to illustrate core concepts.
As part of this activity, and to mark COP28, a series of integrated future forest workshops have been developed. These have been run throughout 2023 in schools in both the UK and Dubai.
The workshops are designed to encourage students to:
- Explore the causes and effects of climate change on our forests.
- Develop and critique solutions.
- Develop resources to convince others of the value of their solutions and plan their implementation.
As they participate in the process, students develop a range of transferable green skills and the confidence to articulate their views and amplify their voice regarding the causes, effects and potential solutions to the climate crisis.
During the COP28 conference, groups of students who have taken part in this process, supported by academics from the University of Birmingham, are delivering their solutions in the Green Zone. These range from the use of public transport, to deforestation and carbon taxes. Their activity is generating keen interest from the delegates including Dubai Ministry of Education and the British embassy in Dubai.
Making BIFoR global
The BIFoR FACE experiment is undoubtedly impressive, and an important addition to school education resources in the area of plant science and climate change, not least because oak forests have significant resonance in the UK environment. Climate change, however, knows no borders and different forest ecosystems have more importance in other parts of the world such as the UAE, for example, where mangrove forests are common.
Here at BIFoR, we have been globalising our education resources. We have built a virtual mangrove site, enabling students to explore the types of adaptations mangroves have made to live in. These forests are one of the world’s most important ecosystems, providing a series of services such as protection from storm damage, capturing carbon and as a home for biodiversity. Mangrove forests are also threatened by climate change but in different ways, including changes in salinity, sea level rises and increasing storm damage.
Our virtual mangrove tour enables students to explores the adaptations mangroves have made to live in their unusual saline environment, how they provide us with benefits and how they are affected by climate change. This resource is being further developed with the help of teachers and students as part of the legacy of the COP28 activity.