Grassroots initiative helps young people champion nature

The future’s bright for Northern Ireland’s young people and wildlife thanks to a brand new initiative led by Ulster Wildlife – the Grassroots Challenge.

The £1m programme is funded by the Big Lottery Fund as part of the Our Bright Future programme. It will see over 5,000 young people equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to give nature a helping hand in their local communities, through the delivery of ‘wild idea’ projects.

From transforming neglected local spaces into havens for wildlife and people, to inspiring adults and children alike with nature through events and surveys in their neighbourhoods, the Grassroots Challenge will unleash the potential of young people through Young Farmers’ Clubs, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and special schools.

As well developing the skills needed to become environmental leaders, young people also have the opportunity to work towards an accredited environmental qualification, improve their employment prospects, obtain eco-club status, and learn how to influence decisions at local and regional levels, alongside partners LANTRA, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and NI Environment Link.

Speaking at the launch of the Grassroots Challenge in Stormont today, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle McIlveen MLA said: “I am delighted to support this innovative movement for change which focuses on developing young people’s employability and well-being through positive action for our environment.

“Young people are the leaders of tomorrow. By equipping them with environmental skills and knowledge to improve the places that are important to them, and to influence decisions that shape their surroundings, our natural and built environment and local communities will benefit from significant and lasting change.”

Members of Ballywalter Young Farmers’ Club (YFC) are amongst the first to take up the Grassroots Challenge. They have built a hedgehog house that will be placed in the grounds of Beechlawn Special School in Hilsborough where pupils are also getting involved by improving their space for nature.

Kristina McKeag, aged 19, Club Secretary from Ballywalter YFC said: “We’ve really enjoyed taking part in the challenge, finding out about local wildlife and picking up new skills, like wood work, along the way.

“Hedgehogs are declining in Northern Ireland as fast as tigers around the world, so it’s been great to help these adorable mammals and provide places for them to nest and hibernate in the schools’ grounds. We’ve lots more exciting projects planned, and we can’t wait to get stuck in!”

A year from now, the first Grassroots Challenge celebration and showcase event will take place incorporating a public debating competition on environmental topics and awards for the best ‘Wild Idea’ projects and Young Environmental Leader of the Year.

The Grassroots Challenge is part of Our Bright Future, a programme of 31 projects across the UK co-ordinated by the Wildlife Trusts and funded by the Big Lottery Fund, over the next five years. Each project aims to help young people step up and create what is rightfully theirs: a thriving economy, a healthy planet, and a better future.

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