A GROUP of prominent British and World academics has slammed Gloucestershire County Council’s closure of the Wilderness outdoor learning centre at Mitcheldean.
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In a strongly-worded letter addressed to the world press and first released to the Review, the full text of which is given below, they draw attention to the fact that 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, remembering that across England local authorities like Gloucestershire led the way with action plans and investments in community-based initiatives and resources like the Wilderness Centre.
And as the Review went to press this week the letter was still receiving additional weighty signatories.
The academics have also sent a copy of the letter to HRH Prince Charles at Highgrove.
The Review has asked Gloucestershire County Council for their views on its content.
The signatories endorse the text :
“Does an environmental/outdoor education centre have a role to play in what various political leaders around the world have declared as the greatest moral challenge of our time and the need for an education revolution? We think so. And we write to you from different parts of the world to express our concern and opposition to the decision to close down and sell the Wilderness Centre at Mitcheldean.
“2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. With ‘Think global, act local’, the event challenged the world’s communities to develop their own Local Agenda for environmental sustainability. Across England, councils led the way with action plans and investments in community-based initiatives and resources. Villages and towns tackled issues around waste, biodiversity, the local economy and fair trade – efforts that translated Rio’s lofty goals into practical actions. A key venue for this work in Gloucestershire was the Wilderness Centre in the Forest of Dean.
“Where are we now? People still want sustainable economies, vibrant ecosystems and flourishing communities. Talk of ‘transition towns’ and the ‘green economy’ are very much in fashion. Rio won’t go away – in fact, Rio+20 will be held in June.
“The return to Rio invites the world to take stock of actions on environment and sustainability since 1992. Education has always been the undisputed lynchpin to the work of Rio, it was required as much then as it is now. In fact, teaching and learning about global and local issues in the classroom are only half the story; our education and experiences in the local environment are equally fundamental. All this education has to happen somewhere, if it is to happen at all. And what better place to start than in a dedicated environmental education centre in the heart of the Forest of Dean?
“Closing the Wilderness Centre in 2011 has proven shortsighted. Selling it off in 2012 will only compound matters. It damages not just the green credentials of the county council but sells short the people of Gloucestershire – its current and future generations.
“The agenda at stake is much larger than balancing council budgets.”
Professor William Scott, President of the UK National Association of Environmental Education Centre for Research in Education and the Environment, University of Bath South West Learning for Sustainability Coalition.
Professor Justin Dillon, Professor of science and environmental education Head, Science and Technology Education Group (STEG) Department of Education and Professional Studies King’s College London.
Bob Stevenson Ph.D., Professor and Tropical Research Leader (Education for Environmental Sustainability) Director, Centre for Research and Innovation in Sustainability Education, The Cairns Institute and School of Education, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia.
Associate Professor Phillip Payne, Faculty of Education, Monash University, Frankston, Victoria, Australia.
Paul Vare, Executive Director, South West Learning for Sustainability Coalition.
Prof Stephen Sterling, Head of Education for Sustainable Development, Teaching and Learning Directorate, Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth.
Dr Kelly Teamey, Centre for Research in Education and the Environment, University of Bath.
Ann Finlayson, chief executive SEEd (Sustainability and Environmental Education).
A spokesman for The Friends of the Wilderness welcomed the statement as a contribution to their efforts to take over the running of the centre.
Commenting on the letter Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Gloucestershire County Council’s Leader, said: “Gloucestershire County Council took the decision to close the Wilderness Centre over a year ago, as part of the difficult decisions we had to take to balance our books, so we could protect crucial services, like care for the elderly and protecting vulnerable children.
“We have given extra time and financial support to help Friends of the Wilderness Centre develop a plan to operate the site themselves.
“I am unsure whether any of these five academics have even visited Gloucestershire, but, if they would like to make a contribution, they could best do so by supporting Friends of the Wilderness centre’s fundraising activities.”
•A public meeting which looks at the Wilderness Centre closure has been called for Friday night (Miners Welfare Hall, Cinderford, 7pm).
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