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A holistic approach to environmental education: How to foster ongoing environmental stewardship in the community.

       Bellarine Catchment Network engages the wider Bellarine Peninsula community through a variety of programs and opportunities that facilitate re-engagement and behavioural change. Their goal is to continue delivering integrated community driven projects that protect and enhance the environmental values of the Bellarine.

Bellarine Catchment Network are a non-government, incorporated organisation that support and collaborate with 27 ‘friends of’ groups, community groups, councils and land managers across Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. In addition to helping facilitate events and activities for these 27 organisations, the Bellarine Catchment Network also have an extensive project scope of their own. These projects and programs are designed to engage the wider community, from primary students and families to the retired, in a way that facilitates re-engagement and inspires behavioural change.


Each year, Bellarine Catchment Network has engaged with 25 primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions in Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula and further afield. Each school participates in an ‘Environment Day’ with activities that are tailored to their curriculum; whether it be about bugs, biodiversity or beachcombs. Some partnerships with these institutions have been established for the last 10 years and are ongoing. When possible, local environmental community groups are involved in these activities, helping to create valuable partnerships between the school and these grassroots groups. Each environment day is delivered in a way that facilitates ongoing engagement to ‘make the message stick’. Each year, Bellarine Catchment Network distribute an additional 200 engaging and informative resources to many schools in the region for their own dissemination within the school and with parents. These resources include flora and fauna field guides and colourful posters and cards showcasing local marine species and are highly sought after within education institutions. In addition, as each environment day is repeated each year, every single student at a school will engage with Bellarine Catchment Network at some point making that engagement a point of excitement for lower years who are yet to participate.

To reach the other demographics within the wider community, environmental education needs to extend beyond the walls of a school and into the hands of the participant. Each year, Bellarine Catchment facilitate several community planting days for partner organisations in order to engage with families, community members and local residents. Environmental stewardship is fostered in these participants through emotion and physical engagement; they literally use their hands when they dig holes for juvenile plants, handle their delicate roots and leaves and have the pleasure of returning to the site in years to come to see their efforts flourishing and growing. These planting days, some of which have occurred for the past 11 years, are designed for life long engagement as they can return and see their volunteer efforts over the long period. Facilitating strong emotional reactions to these activities and efforts has shown to be an effective way of engaging as participants gain ownership over ‘their’ environment and foster a desire to protect it. Many local residents who initially attend these activities go on to become integral members of local ‘friends of’ groups dedicating their time to these activities each week. Some participants have even become members of volunteer committees, like Bellarine Catchment Network President Graeme O’Leary who is “passionate about maintaining and growing the on-ground community support for the unique biodiversity of the Bellarine.”

Some members of the Bellarine and Geelong community want to engage in environmental activities at an even deeper level. One of Bellarine Catchment Network’s major activities is the ‘Caring for Our Bays’ program that is aimed at highlight the issue of litter in our bays and the impact this has on our marine life. A major stream of this program is a citizen science project investigating the presence of litter at 15 locations around Geelong and the Bellarine. Each location has a group of dedicated volunteers who conduct ‘litter audits’, capturing quantitative data that is used to influence management decisions. These citizen scientists are given ownership over their ‘hotspot’ which strengthens their connection to the environment and has enabled them to dedicate ongoing dedication to their project. They have collected and disposed of over 20,000 items of litter as a result of their collaborative efforts. Through the collection of real data that contributes to real decisions, participants feel like true environmental advocates with the ability to see their impact in the reduction of litter.


Utilising an innovative and integrated approach to community engagement, Bellarine Catchment Network have successfully stirred the pot of environmental stewardship in the Geelong and Bellarine Community for over the past decade. Highly engaging activities and materials make messages memorable, emotive and stimulating education inspires and provides ownership to participants and keeping activities diverse and inclusive allow the net of environmental stewardship to be cast far and wide. 


      Written by Naomi Wells and Matt Crawley from Bellarine Catchment Network.

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