Planting the Right Values

Article excerpt

Byline: SUSAN ELKIN

ON A damp Saturday afternoon hundreds of excited children from schools across the country throng London's Imperial College for the annual environmental awards of the British Naturalists' Association.

Its president, environmentalist and broadcaster David Bellamy, is there to present the coveted Blake Shield for the best conservation or natural history project, which this year went to pupils at Coleraine Girls' Secondary School in Northern Ireland for their study of water.

Up to 40 girls in the school's after-hours environment club had comprehensively researched different aspects of their subject. Local river sampling provided information about pollution, presented in graphs, lists and pictures.

The girls had also investigated historic uses of water throughout the world, including hydro-electric power.

Carly Gage, 14, who accepted the award on behalf of the pupils, paid tribute to the `guidance, knowledge and friendship' of their teacher Ruth Irvine for encouraging their interest in the environment.

The indefatigable work of Mrs Irvine, whose `day job' is teaching French, deserves special praise at a time when we hear so much about indifferent teachers.

Community projects carried out by Ruth and `her' girls includes tree planting and building sensory gardens for the disabled. They successfully fought a developer's planning application so that they are now in charge of an environmentally important piece of ground on which to create a nature reserve. They also run an on-site `tree nursery' at the school.

The Coleraine girls' work cuts across the religious divide and extends to links with schools in the Republic of Ireland. They also collaborate with schools in France, Sweden, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Ruth has taken groups to Peru and Indonesia on environmental projects and worldwide contacts are maintained almost daily through e-mail and video conferencing. It's hardly surprising to learn that this is the third time the school has won the Blake Shield.

But she and her assistant, former pupil Ruth Parke, 22, face a constant battle to find the funds to keep all this going. …