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Young people leading change

In this guest blog, Youth Committee member Aidan Cronin shares his thoughts on how young people can help to shape the future of protected areas.

Young people are the future of our protected areas so it is vital we are leading change in the years to come.

COP26 was a very exciting time for Scotland, for the UK and for the world. It will hopefully act as a catalyst for huge change across our planet, with international, national and local projects all starting as a result.

There were lots of talks about what the future can and will look like. Global leadership coming together to clash brains, share ideas and ultimately make plans.

These talks were super important and hopefully highlighted the power of working together.

This has been a key takeaway from my work at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Youth Committee – that working in a team, although sometimes challenging, is massively valuable in any project’s success. This skill has been easily transferred to my work in my own community.

Community action is often considered ‘small’.  The COP26 summit was huge with, hopefully, long-lasting effects in the form of ‘big’ change.  This doesn’t negate the importance however of community action and small scale projects.

The saying ‘the big stuff is great when it comes, but enjoy the little things’ is very relevant to solving our biggest issues such as climate change.

One project in my community I have been involved in is the Callander Climate Fringe Week. The week was organised almost entirely virtually. This did create problems but it highlights how community action can still happen even when not face-to-face.

The team organised a week of events for a range of ages, including events for young people, in 87 days. Events ranged from a careers event for young people to mushroom foraging in the woods.

My work with the National Park’s Youth Committee has also complimented my work with McLaren High School’s Sustainability Project. We have started our work on reducing single-use plastic bottles, reducing plastic bottles from 700 to around 425 per week. We are also working with Stirling Council to introduce more sustainable packaging in school canteens and canned water has been introduced.

Our work has created motivation across the school to become a more sustainable school. We now have a 16 strong staff team who volunteered to get involved with the project, showing just how much the project has had an impact on our school’s environment and mind set.

Using a quality improvement framework, we are looking forward to embedding real change into the school’s community. Our project is now branching out into more areas including reducing plastic waste, increase recycling, increasing sustainable transport and improving climate literacy. To achieve these visions, we need local teamwork in the school.

But teamwork, and by extension community action, is only effective when people want to be in the team. There is no point forcing people to do something they aren’t passionate about. At McLaren, people are getting involved in projects they want to be involved in – this allows our staff and pupils to lead projects and change.

COP26 has been and gone and now we must create a legacy with community action and teamwork. Projects similar to McLaren Sustainability are perfect examples of what a legacy project could look like.

Young people across the globe will be inspired by the COP26 summit and can play an important role as we look beyond COP. We need to capture this passion; communities, organisations and governments can all be a part of this.  And that means young people not just being consulted on projects but co-designing them.

Our world is going to look a lot different in the coming years, so let’s make that difference positive, reverse man-made influences on climate change and start conserving our environment.

I think starting by conserving environments on our own doorsteps is the first rung on the ladder to a safer and more sustainable world.  Young people are the future of our protected areas so it is vital we are leading change in the years to come.

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