Uist hosts first Eco-schools Conference

The pupils discussed food miles and seasonality with Neil Campbell from Sustainable Uist.
The pupils discussed food miles and seasonality with Neil Campbell from Sustainable Uist.

On Friday 23rd March, Uist hosted its first ever Eco-schools Conference for all Uist and Barra schools. Southend Hall in Daliburgh was the venue for the conference which was attended by 80 primary and secondary age pupils from nine schools.

The Eco-Schools programme is an international initiative designed to encourage whole-school action for the environment.

It is a recognised award scheme that accredits schools who make a commitment to continuously improve their environmental performance and also raises awareness of environmental and sustainable development issues. All 39 schools in the Outer Hebrides have registered with the programme and four schools have received the Green Flag Award which is the top level of award in the Eco-schools programme.

The conference was organised by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Sustainable Uist to bring schools together to showcase what they have achieved through the Eco-schools programme and to participate in a range of relevant workshops.

Each participating school had a display stand and gave a presentation to showcase their achievements. The day proved a great success and allowed pupils to share their ideas.

There was a buzz in the hall which was colourfully decorated by each school using home-made bunting made from recycled materials which reinforced the ‘Three Rs’ – Reduce, Re-use and Recycle. In addition children participated in workshops on four of the Eco-school core topics: Biodiversity, Water, Food and the Environment, and Waste Minimisation.  

Kathy Biss from the West Highland Dairy in Achmore near Kyle of Lochalsh delivered one of the food workshops and pupils were able to try their hand at making butter; an activity that proved very popular.

Unfortunately there are no longer dairies in Uist and very few people keep a house cow so many young people will never have seen butter being made.

Neil Campbell from Sustainable Uist focussed on fruit and vegetables and eating seasonally. The Coop Food Store in Daliburgh kindly donated a basket of fresh produce for the event and the children looked at how far some produce has travelled and the impact this can have on the environment.

Sustainable Uist has undertaken vegetable growing trials to develop growing techniques which give an improved chance of success in the challenging local weather and soil conditions.

And Paula Love, Eco-schools Lead Assessor for the West of Scotland, was on hand during the conference to provide advice to schools who are working towards gaining an award.

Paula said: “The conference provided a marvellous forum for children in the Uists and Barra to share their enthusiasm and expertise to highlight issues of local and global sustainability.

“We hope this event will become a regular feature of the school calendar and that it will inspire many more Western Isles’ schools to go for Green Flag status.”

Sgoil Lionacleit in Benbecula has recently established a new eco-committee to lead the process within the school. The eco-committee comprises pupils and they attended the conference to get ideas from other schools to help them develop an action plan for the school.

Steve Carter, teacher at Sgoil Lionacleit said: “This event was a great opportunity for our newly formed committee to learn from the successes of other schools in Uist and Barra. It was excellent to see pupils of all ages networking and sharing ideas in such a constructive way.”

The event organisers would like to thank all those who gave of their time to deliver workshops and the schools for putting so much effort into their presentations and displays for the conference.

Given the success of this first conference, it is hoped that the eco-schools conference will become an annual event in the schools calendar and also take place in Lewis and Harris