Awareness and Environmental Education: Support for Conservation

N. González Henríquez

Jardín Botánico Canario "Viera y Clavijo"
Apartado 14 de Tafira Alta, 35017 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Islas Canarias, Spain


The conservation of the environment and of the species that live in it will only be possible when we succeed in changing or modifying the attitude of people and society towards their environment. Often those attitudes have their origin in the lack of awareness of, or ignorance towards, the environment, as well as in the existing disparity between conservation and development.

Modern botanic gardens have seen the need to incorporate environmental education within their fundamental objectives. Now they are providing resources for society and informing them of the need to take care of and conserve the natural resources of the environment which form part of the natural inheritance of the planet.

Through our programme "Public awakening and environmental education", which has been functioning for 15 years in this local botanic garden, we have already begun to obtain encouraging results that gives hope of a better future.

Environmental education from a botanic garden can be taken up in a broad sense: not only are we able to build up programmes to complement and invigorate the formal environmental curricula, but we can also develop other activities targeted towards other groups of people (the general public, the third age, adults, scout groups, youth groups, conservation groups, tourist guides, etc.)

ur programme is focussed on these two aspects: that is, an active conservation programme cannot be achieved only from a scientific aspect, but that one that must raise the awareness of all the people to the potential importance of the loss of the world inheritance of our endemic Canarian flora, as well as of the ecosystems which contain plant formations unique in the world. People must be educated with a conservationist attitude so that they can appreciate the benefits at a personal and a collective level, acquiring an awareness of the environment that surrounds them and the habit of behaving in keeping with the environment.

With the new 1990 education law in Spain, curriculum schemes for the natural environment and life sciences in primary and secondary teaching have started to be developed. Nevertheless, we are the institutions, not schools, that must teach not only students in school, but also associations, clubs, groups and the family, that the environment is something inseparable from them and that only their knowledge will be capable of maintaining and improving it.


La conservación del medio ambiente y de las especies que habitan en él sólo será posible cuando se logre cambiar o modificar la actitud del hombre y la sociedad hacia su entorno. Muchas veces esas actitudes tienen su origen en la falta de conocimiento o ignorancia hacia el medio ambiente y otras, por la disparidad existente entre conservación y desarrollo.

Los jardines botanicos modernos han visto la necesidad de acometer dentro de sus objetivos primordiales la educación ambiental ya quo disponen de medios matenales para llegar a toda la sociedad informándoles la necisidad e cuidar y conservar los recursos naturales de su entorno que forman parte del patrimonio natural del planeta.

A traves de nuestro programa "Concienciación Publica y Educación Ambiental" que lleva 15 años funcionando en este jardín botánico local hemos empezado ya a obtener resultados esperanzadores de un futuro mejor.

La educación ambiental desde un jardín botánico puede asumirse en sentido amplio, ya que no sólo podemos elaborar programas para complementar y dinamizar los curricula ambientales de la educación oficial sino que podemos realizar otras actividades y experiencias enfocadas hacia otros sectores de la población (publico general, tercera edad, adultos, grupos scouth, asociaciones juveniles, grupos ecologistas, guías de turismo, etc.).

Nuestro programa se na enfocago en estas dos vertientes ya que un programa operativo de conservación no puede ser llevado a cabo sólo desde la vertiente científica, hay que concienciar a toda la población de la importancia que puede tener la pérdida del patrimonio mundial de nuestra flora endemica canaria así como de los ecosistemas que contienen formaciones vegetales unicas en el mundo. La población debe ser educada con una mentalidad conservacionista para que puedan apreciar los beneficios a nivel personal y colectivo, adquiriendo conciencia del medio ambiente que les rodea y practicando hábitos de conservació hacia la naturaleza.

Con la nueva ley de educación de 1990 (LODE) en España han comenzado a elaborarse proyectos curriculares sobre el medio natural y ciencias de la naturaleza en la enseñanza primaria y secundaria. Sin embargo, somos las instituciones no escolares las que debemos hacer llegar sólo a la escuela sino a la asociación, el club, la agrupación o la familia la idea de que el medio ambiente es algo consustancial y que unicamente su conocimiento será capaz de sostenerlo y mejorarlo.

The Need for an Educational Approach

For plants and animals as well as for ecosystems, the greatest dangers are created by man. Ecosystems are regulated by natural processes and these processes are as yet insufficiently understood, but as their intrinsic workings are investigated they are seen to be highly efficient. Human actions have often caused alterations to these processes and affected their balance, with unpredictable and harmful consequences. That is why the conservation of nature can only be successful if there is a substantial change in human attitudes towards the other living beings that share the biosphere and the ecosystems that occupy it.

A great part of the destruction of nature is caused either by ignorance or by a lack of foresight, due to the irrational short-term exploitation of resources. That is why practical conservation programmes are fundamental; we need to make society aware of the importance of not losing our world's patrimony - that is nature. In our particular case, this patrimony comprises the endemic species and the unique ecosystems that are found in the Canary Islands. Society should be educated towards an awareness of conservation, and to appreciate its benefits at the collective and the personal levels. This awareness can then lead to practical measures for the conservation of nature. Facts and arguments needed to be formulated in order to narrow the gap between conservation groups and the general public as regards respect for nature. A continuing campaign geared to making people more aware of conservation issues can have positive results within a decade. Similarly, educational programmes within the scope of environmental education can give effective results in the same period.

In view of what has been stated above, existing botanic gardens have as one of their main functions the task of educating people to respect and look after the environment. This can be done by environmental education that is based on scientific and teaching principles and is integrated into school curricula using the resources that we offer. This is possible because the role of the botanic garden has evolved: they are no longer simply places for leisure activities or the investigation and conservation of species.

How To Put This Idea Into Practice

Botanic gardens need to offer their local communities information and educational programmes about the environment. The aim of these programmes should be to change the attitude of people from one of ignorance or indifference to one of respecting and preserving the environment, so that the legacy of richness and variety of living beings will be preserved for future generations.

What should be the Environmental Education Objectives of Botanic Gardens?

Environmental education objectives should be:

A Practical Example

It can said that all of the above discussion is 'utopian' and that deeds are more important than words; therefore let us describe a particular case. I will describe the Public Awareness and Environmental Education Programme that has been running for the last fifteen year in Jardín Botánico Canario and what it has meant for the conservation of Island fauna, flora and ecosystems. This programme, which is included in the project "Plants and the Future" and is based on the theme "Knowing how to conserve", was considered from the beginning as indispensable to achieving its principal goal i.e. the conservation of flora in danger of extinction in the Canary Islands. This programme, originally concerned with the plant world, was soon enlarged to include the Islands' environment as a whole, in order to give a broader view of their ecosystems and the problems that they can face due to human actions.

Therefore the Jardín Botánico Canario has included in its objectives the promotion of the appreciation of the Islands' ecosystems and the dissemination of knowledge about their plants and animals.

From the beginning of our activities in environmental education we gave ourselves wide goals. These goals involved working on different levels towards our different audiences: the general public, schoolchildren, and the teaching profession:

The process of helping people to become aware of their surroundings has been done using different methodologies. These methodologies have been developed over the years, taking into account the response of the target audience that we wish to reach.

Our best results in practice have been as follows.


We consider these the best method to use in the school sector, from infants to secondary school pupils. They can be applied over a wide range and afford numerous benefits. They enhance the assimilation of concepts, facilitate group work, help students become more sensitive, stimulate their capacity for observation and analysis, generate a spirit of adventure, and help create emotional bonds with the environment.

We have used games as dynamic activities in self-guided itineraries and monitor-aided visits. They have given excellent results in infant and primary education. We have also used games as a static activity, using folders for manual work, using our folder "Play in Nature". This is worked through in the classroom as a complementary activity after visits to the Garden. The folder contains a game on ecosystems, stickers, puzzles, and a small book with drawings for colouring.

Environmental interpretation

Environmental interpretation is communication between people who know about the value of our natural heritage and others who do not. It should not be limited to nature areas. It can be defined as follows:

"An educational activity which aims to reveal relationships and meaning in nature through the use of original objects. The activity aims to develop the visitor's interest, enjoyment and understanding, which in turn will awaken their sensitivity and respect toward the environment".

The result of seeking to fulfil this definition was that visits to the Gardens became participatory. The guide had to gain the participation of the visitors in the activity, so that during the Garden tour they would absorb the essential material and lessons by using the guidebooks for self-guided or discovery school visits. The teachers, after being interviewed and prepared, interpret the Garden's resources and activities to the students. During guided visits the Garden's educator acts as guide and interpreter for the teachers and students.

Visual displays:

Through displays of living plants, which are accompanied by educational panels, we try to interpret the Canarian ecosystems and the Islands' environmental problems. These exhibits are seen by a broad sector of the general public, as they are often shown at local fairs and municipalities.

The Garden visitors centre and information centres, which are being prepared, will respectively provide our visitors with environmental interpretation and information. Currently activities are based on an exhibit on "The Preservation of the Botanic Gardens of the World" which is accompanied by the audio-visual BGCI presentation "Growing Uncertainties" and by a video describing the efforts to preserve endangered species in our Botanic Garden.

In another hall we exhibit drawings and models made by school students that are based on environmental themes.

Education Courses:

In the refresher courses we offer for teachers, environmental interpretation is always considered as a method with which to work on environmental issues with the students.

The Garden is also used by teachers of architecture, geography and education as a resource for the interpretation of landscape.


From the social standpoint, the investigation of our surroundings is enhanced by an appreciation of environmental problems. Direct investigation is the ideal methodology for the development of informed opinions on environmental education. Environmental education is understood as the process through which a person acquires the ability to understand and judge the relationship between society and nature, as well as how to act in accordance with these opinions. Field work outside the classroom is a basic method which we can use to know our surroundings.

During guided and self-guided tours, various investigative activities are held into the different aspects of Canarian flora and the ecosystems represented in the Garden. These are done using work cards, workbooks and practical classroom work, and by follow- up activities, to be practised in the students' surroundings or during other nature outings are suggested. This greatly helps teachers to fill the gap caused by the lack of teaching materials and experience in the organization of such activities.

The creation and upkeep of school gardens helps initiate the very young in investigation work and data collection. These gardens are a good resource for environmental education at learning centres.

In the school plant nursery at the Garden, children familiarize themselves with plant manipulation techniques, seed beds, cutting and grafting. They investigate medicinal and aromatic plants, and they get to know the plants that are economic resources for the Canary Islands.

The replanting done by students in the surroundings of their institutions, as well as by youth and environmental groups, are used by them to collect data on their progress. This study is conducted in a more or less scientific fashion.

The seminars help teachers develop their methodology for field work and using resources, so that they may involve their students in and out of classroom work.

The award of the Sventenius Prize is an annual event held by this Botanic Garden to award students of different learning levels for their work on nature and conservation in the Canary Islands.


The media are used to share information with the general public.

Lectures illustrated with slides offer a overall view of the living organisms and ecosystems of the Canary Islands, as well as of environmental problems.

Aguayro, a magazine which is distributed free, has offered us a new outlet. We use it to publish articles and illustrations on the Canarian flora.

The flora, fauna and ecosystem posters are attractive, use short punchy descriptive phrases and show the care taken of the natural heritage.

We have a project which aims to involve all the municipalities and environmental groups of the island of Gran Canaria in the study and preservation of threatened plants that are of interest in gardening. Two years ago, an exhibit was held using educational billboards through which a endemic garden plant was assigned to each municipality. Providing Canarian plants, along with technical assistance from the Garden's botanists to all the citizens who requested them in order to replant their land or gardens, has sometimes generated more requests than from teaching institutions. The general public is consequently learning to appreciate Canarian plant species that they previously ignored.

The "Tree Club", inaugurated in 1990, has helped to promote the appreciation of and respect for Canarian trees through caring and learning about them. Posters and pamphlets about trees are given to Tree Club members.

The exhibits that use informative billboards directed at the general public or at school students, in the Garden itself or as visiting exhibits at schools and municipalities, aim to motivate and heighten awareness in the population about local environmental problems. They also attempt to teach about the environment and Island ecosystems, and to inform about: threatened species and the solutions to their problems, the activities at a particular garden, and the role of botanic gardens in preservation.

Summary of Objectives

The objectives we set out for ourselves, which are listed below, have served to structure our programme and have permitted us to obtain the results described in this paper. In summary, the objectives are:

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