Thanks to the BSPP Plant Pathology Promotion fund, 3,500 Girlguiding members are being introduced to plant pathology. The ‘Plant Defenders’ challenge is for 7- 14 year old Brownies and Guides. This challenge was launched in March 2020, for the UN’s International Year of Plant Health. It focuses on why we need plants, what makes them unhealthy, and what we can do to protect them.
The audience for this challenge is important – we are yet to achieve gender balance in science, so targeting the challenge towards all-female Brownies and Guides ensures that girls are being reached. Girlguiding values inclusivity highly, and BSPP funding has allowed girls from all socioeconomic back grounds to participate. Also, this audience are keen to get involved – Girl guiding surveys indicate that 88% of girls think it is urgent that we do more to help the environment, with 86% saying young people should be more in volved in conversations on how that should be done. This badge provides an opportunity for girls to do this, through learning about an aspect of environmental health, having conversations with experts and taking ownership with their own action pledge. As a Girlguiding leader, I also know that most of our girls (and leaders!) would do anything for a new badge (pictured above) to add to their uniform or camp blanket.
The challenge itself is a multimedia collection of new activities covering aspects of plant health such as disease, pathogen evolution, and pollinators. Activities include active games, silly action songs, science experiments, eating food and exploring outside. All of these were designed to be run virtually if needed – in hindsight, this was more useful than I would ever have imagined! Activities are completed as a group, with a final individual ‘plant defender action’ pledge; something each girl will do to take ownership and protect our plants. So far, we have had some brilliant pledges, including pollinator gardens being built, MPs being contacted, and new plant pathology knowledge being shared with friends and family.
My favourite activity is ‘real life plant defenders’; women working in plant pathology who have kindly shared their biographies to inspire participants, and have offered to be contacted by girls. My own Brownies unit really enjoyed our virtual visit from Lindsay Williams, a ‘real life plant defender’ who told us all about her job as a PhD researcher working on post-harvest immunity in vegetables.
The key aims of this project are to demonstrate that plant pathology is important and interesting, and that careers in science are attainable for girls from all backgrounds. Evaluation activities include girls junk modelling their favourite plant and answering three questions (What’s your favourite thing about plants? What makes plants poorly? How can we help?) at both the start and end of the challenge. Comparisons between these responses are encouraging, with much increased awareness of plant pests and pathogens by the end of the challenge.
There has also been fantastic feedback from parents and leaders; huge thanks are owed to the BSPP for making this challenge possible. At the latest count, we have had an amazing 2,700 girls complete the challenge, with another 800 in progress. Ultimately, I hope the outcome of this project will be 3,500 girls engaging in plant pathology, talking to women in science, and having fun!