To conserve Maine’s wildlife and its habitat by engaging people of all ages in conservation, education, and action.
“Bringing Nature Home” To a Schoolyard
By Eric Topper, Director of Education
Like many places, landscapes throughout Maine are changing dramatically. Today, gardens, yards, neighborhoods and towns have to play increasingly critical roles in supporting native food webs for birds, pollinators and other wildlife. Individual and collective efforts to support wildlife can be both intimately rewarding and broadly beneficial.
“Bringing Nature Home” is Maine Audubon’s native plants restoration and community engagement initiative based on the bestselling book of that title by Doug Tallamy. Although Dr. Tallamy studies the number of insects attracted by various plants and trees, particularly those common in urban and suburban landscapes, the real focus of Tallamy’s efforts are the birds and other wildlife which depend on abundance and diversity of those insects to feed their young. “Bringing Nature Home” promotes the plants, practices, and perks involved in restoring native food webs in our gardens, yards, schoolyards and communities.
With an overall focus on Maine birds and their habitats, Maine Audubon provides resources and programming around what students and communities can do including what plants to choose as well as how to manage and maintain our landscapes for their full ecological function and benefit. Maine Audubon also propagates, cultivates, and promotes a large selection of beautiful native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees we can incorporate into schoolyards for a wide range of benefits. Learn about these native species on the Maine Audubon Native Plant Finder website at mainenativeplants.org
“Bringing Nature Home” has been a rich opportunity for Maine Audubon to energize new partnerships, find ready relevance for all ages and demographics and for bringing new energy and inclusion to our wildlife and habitat conservation mission. The broad applicability of this area of focus to different landscapes also makes it accessible for all ages and developmental levels. Hundreds of adults have participated in our native plant walks and fall seed sowing workshops each year, and we’ve met thousands more conducting webinars and outreach presentations to garden clubs, nurseries and our volunteer chapters. We are also working closely with land trusts, municipalities, retirement communities, developers, and others to engage their communities in restoring and monitoring native plants and habitat.
With classrooms, schools, and districts throughout Maine, Maine Audubon educators and ecologists have helped integrate native plants, pollinator gardens, and curricula-aligned plantings into formal landscape designs as stand-alone gardens and as individual native plants scattered about school grounds.
We also routinely engage students in restoring habitat in parks, on beaches, and along streambanks. Students have grown endangered species from seed, beautified school entrances, and restored wild habitats. They have also produced PSA videos, interpretive signage, and species profile posters. Even Maine’s youngest students have learned about Monarchs and made seed balls with milkweed to take home.
Programming for older youth has also focused on exposing students to careers in conservation and land stewardship. Maine Audubon and our partners have invested energy and resources on equity and inclusion including integrating indigenous ecological knowledge, adapting content for English language learners and special education programming.
At its heart,“Bringing Nature Home” is about restoring native plants, shrubs and trees as well as the natural genetic biodiversity. Whether on an apartment balcony in Portland, a backyard, a school garden, a city park or a large woodland owned by a land trust, some of the simplest planting and maintenance choices people make can have profound impact on the local food web.
We need pollinators to help produce our food just as a pair of Black-capped Chickadees need thousands of caterpillars to fledge chicks. In addition to our backyards and local green spaces becoming opportunities to recruit and train new naturalists, they become potential refugia for species of plants and trees facing real challenges across broader landscapes.