Ireland’s woodlands to become ‘living classrooms’ following successful pilot project

  • Tree Explorer project at UCC arboretum to go nationwide in partnership with Coillte, OPW, and Tree Council of Ireland.
  • Four UCC projects awarded a combined €451,000 in the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme.
  • Research projects will focus on improving diversity and inclusion in STEM education for less-represented voices and groups.

A pilot project turning a tree-lined university campus into a ‘living classroom’ has received funding to roll the initiative out nationwide.

The Tree Explorers project at University College Cork (UCC) involved the development of tree tours around UCC’s campus – a recognised arboretum in its own right – along with workshops, public talks, educational materials, a self-guided map and a series of videos.

Led by Dr Eoin Lettice, Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich and Prof Claire Connolly of UCC, the Irish Tree Explorers Network (ITEN) has now received funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to take what has been learned from the project’s success in Cork and bring it to a national audience.

Through developing partnerships with Coillte, the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Tree Council of Ireland, ITEN will engage even more people with the importance of trees, nature, and the environment through important tree collections.

We are excited that SFI continue to see the value in our work and have awarded significant funding to bring the 'Tree Explorers' concept to a much wider audience. Increasingly, trees and nature in general are being recognised for the host of economic, biodiversity, health, and social benefits that they bring. ITEN is an opportunity to engage even more people with the importance of our trees and the tangible benefits that they can provide - whether that is tackling climate change, increasing biodiversity or adding to the beauty of our urban and rural landscape.
Dr Eoin Lettice
Principal Investigator
University College Cork

ITEN is one of four UCC projects that have today been awarded a joint €451,000 in funding from the SFI Discover Programme. Today’s announcement represents funding in four projects which will deliver impactful research that aligns to the UCC Futures framework, provides opportunities for deep public engagement, and supports and develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.

The funding aims to improve diversity and inclusion in STEM by encouraging awardees to give special consideration to building connections with less-represented voices or those who would not typically engage with STEM through the process of co-creation; creating new initiatives with people and not for them. In addition, the awardees target a range of geographic locations and incorporate themes such as climate change and biodiversity.

The research projects that will be funded at University College Cork include:

  • Dr Aoife Deane (The SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine (MaREI), coordinated by the Environmental Research Institute, College of Science, Engineering and Food Science). Teaching Resources for Youth-informed Biodiversity Education (TRYBE) – this project will co-design and pilot a set of educational resources based on the recommendations of the Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss held last year.  The resources will then be refined and disseminated to schools, clubs, and community groups to support environmental awareness and local action.  On completion of the project, researchers will share learnings on the co-design process to inform future work in this space.


  • Dr Chris Mays (School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences). Fossils for our Future—Ireland’s Palaeontology Participation Programme. This project is a citizen science fossil preparation programme. Through sustained, practical engagement with real fossils from past extinction events, the programme will establish a deep appreciation of science among Irish populations not generally or widely engaged with STEM.


  • Dr Cliona O’Carroll (Cork Folklore Project and Department of Folklore and Ethnology, School of Irish Learning, College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Studies). Circular Tales: engaging with the past to inspire the future – A collaboration between the Environmental Research Institute and the Cork Traveller Women’s Network, this project will focus on circular economy through collecting and sharing stories and memories of reuse, recycling and thrift, and through performance and song relating to the topic.

Congratulating the four award recipients from University College Cork on their awards, Prof. John F. Cryan, UCC Vice President for Research and Innovation said: “Congratulations to the four researchers on their funding awards which will provide opportunities to less-represented voices and groups in key STEM disciplines. Inclusion and diversity are at the heart of what UCC represents and incorporating these into research areas such as sustainability and humanities aligns with our UCC Futures Framework and the strategic plan for the University.”

Nationally, €6 million has been awarded to 40 projects to empower and inspire deep public engagement with STEM through the SFI Discover Programme.

The SFI Discover Programme is a key part of our education and public engagement strategy. The Programme encourages collaboration to support public engagement with STEM, with a specific emphasis on broadening participation geographically and amongst less represented voices in STEM. It is essential that we support and encourage diversity and equality at all levels, providing the talent in our society an opportunity to fully participate in shaping our collective future. SFI is keen to push the boundaries of participation and engagement with STEM research. I look forward to seeing what these projects achieve over the coming months.
Prof Philip Nolan
Director General
Science Foundation Ireland

Further information about the New Foundations scheme is available here.