Eastbourne and Willingdon MP Caroline Ansell has held a debate in parliament asking for a GCSE in natural history to be put into the curriculum.

Caroline told MPs she would like the Government to consider the subject at key stage 4. It would foster a love of the natural world through field study and a desire to better protect the environment in future generations, she said.

Speaking in the Westminster Hall debate, she said it was an “inherent truth that one cannot protect what one does not love”. 

“That love of nature that we want to inspire in the youngest children needs to find progression and continuity in every age and all the key stages of the curriculum. 

“Ultimately, that will provide them with skills and insight for a future where, as we look to build the green economy, we need to build a green workforce, too.”

Caroline highlighted the work of the Eastbourne Schools Partnership – now the Coastal Schools Partnership – a group of schools in East Sussex who have formed the Reconnect Group that meets to discuss ways to help young people re-engage with the natural environment.

“This generation has not had the same opportunities as previous generations to enjoy our once rich natural environment. Almost half of UK species are in long-term decline, including key species such as the hedgehog, whose numbers are down 95% since the 1950s.

“We have ploughed up or concreted over large swathes of native habitat in the last century, including 97% of our wildflower meadows,” she told MPs.

She also said access to nature is highly unequal with one in five children living in England’s most deprived areas spend no time at all in the natural environment. 

“The consequence of this precipitous decline is what is known as the shifting baselines phenomenon, whereby successive generations simply become accustomed to ever lower levels of biodiversity, unaware of the greater abundance enjoyed by those who came before.

“Although they have never been so far removed from nature, eight in 10 children and young people in England say that they would like to do more to protect the environment and that doing so is important to them. It is that gulf between, on the one hand, the knowledge and experience of the natural world that are required to protect it and, on the other, the growing concern about ecological decline that a new natural history qualification could help to close.”

She added that a survey found 94% of the young people said that they would have liked to study the GCSE, and 96% of UK teachers and educators who responded were interested in teaching the qualification.

In response, school standards minister Robin Walker said: “In considering whether to introduce a new GCSE, there are many complex factors that we need to think about. 

“I have been very grateful to hear the arguments for this case, and to be given the opportunity to set out some of the work that is already going on in this area.”

He added: “I thank my honourable friend the Member for Eastbourne, as I am sure do her constituents, for her dedication to tackling environmental issues such as pollution, toxic air quality and single-use plastics.

“I also thank her for her continuing dedication to improving education and ensuring that every child gets the best start in life. She is one of many former teachers on our Benches who bring huge passion and experience to the Chamber and our debates.”