We’re a college that’s passionate about working and educating sustainably: for the environment, and for our learners’ future success.
In the last year, we have announced:
- That we are the first FE college to create a senior leadership role dedicated to sustainability;
- our membership with leading sustainable development organisation, Cynnal Cymru;
- and that we were changing our default search engine to Ecosia, to plant a tree every time our staff and students search the internet.
This World Earth Week, we’ve asked Deputy Estates Manager, Freya Powell, to share some of our ecological goals across our four campuses: Aberdare, Nantgarw, Rhondda and Ystrad Mynach.
Tell us about being the Deputy Estates Manager for Coleg y Cymoedd
My job is to ensure the smooth running of all four campus estates. This includes the buildings, grounds, and services within them. A big part of this is to consider what Coleg y Cymoedd can do to ensure we’re as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I love change and implementing new ways of working. This includes improving what we do on the estate. As sustainability, net zero, and the need to protect our environment became more apparent, we found ourselves managing the estate very differently.
We continue to improve and implement ideas to boost the college’s biodiversity and ecology, and seeing what we’ve achieved so far is such a rewarding part of the job.
What guidelines do you follow when it comes to implementing these new biodiversity strategies?
The college has an Environmental Management System (EMS) which considers and records all college operations and activities.
Within the EMS, we take on board all environmental legislation and include legislation that is currently in consultation and on the horizon.
We have to take into account all college staff, students, visitors and suppliers, services and goods when managing the EMS and the information within it.
Can you name a couple of initiatives that the college is currently taking part in?
Yes – we’ve got quite a few initiatives that make up the Estates Team’s daily duties to promote biodiversity.
For instance, we’ve signed up to the ‘Plantlife’ initiative, a charity that aims to make lasting positive change for wildflowers, plants and fungi. Through Plantlife, my team has taken courses including ‘Wildflower Meadows’ and ‘Bug Life’, so that we can protect and restore our wild plants, and connect people with nature on college grounds.
We have just completed the C Block extension at our Ystrad Mynach Campus. To ensure that we undertook the building process sustainably, we signed up for validation and certification from the world’s leading science-based systems for sustainably built environments, BREEAM. As part of our BREEAM accreditation, we created an on-campus lagoon to encourage local wildlife.
The college also retained a piece of land adjacent to the old campus at Aberdare for ecological purposes. We have an ‘Ecology Mitigation Plan’ to keep the land’s abundance of butterflies happy. This year, we have a goal to improve this piece of land, and hope to work with the students on small ecology projects to retain the habitat.
Oh, and on our Rhondda campus, we’re about to embark in extensive tree management of our trees that sit on the estate’s boundary. This will be carefully planned and carried out in conjunction with our tree service contractor. Once completed, we’ll see how we can utilise the boundary trees to place bird boxes and bug housing to increase the wildlife (especially the bird and bug) population. We hope to utilise the free tree planting programme from the Wildlife Trust to help us replenish our boundary tree stock.
Do you have different approaches to biodiversity across the campuses?
All four campuses are very different geographically and in size and location. We have to take these factors into account when considering the best ways to boost biodiversity and ecology.
So, Aberdare has a strip of land in front of the building where specific flora and fauna were planted to encourage bugs and wildlife. We have to adhere to the special processes that are in place to manage this piece of land regarding grass cutting and replanting to ensure we maintain the purpose of the area.
And Ystrad Mynach is a haven for wildlife: hedgehogs, foxes, Green Woodpeckers, bats and squirrels amongst many more. We sensitively maintain these grounds so as not to impact the existing wildlife. Going forward, we will be looking at how we can encourage more. We’re going to review things such as our weed control processes, tree management, and how we can assist in housing our wildlife. Again, we would like the curriculum to get involved in this. We also have our green roof area tucked away among the cluster of buildings and the bees seem to love it.
Nantgarw has a whole different approach due to its urban location and lack of ‘green space’, but, luckily, there’s always opportunities to improve biodiversity. We previously set up a Green Roof to house beehives but had to rehome them during the major structural works that we’re currently undertaking. We continue to look for new, innovative ways to introduce a wildlife focus, and are really excited by the prospect of reintroducing the bees in future.
Aside from that you’ve already mentioned, going forward, what ecological incentives would you like to see at Coleg y Cymoedd?
I would love to see an annual student competition where they can pitch their ideas and bid for college money for a project relating to sustainability. I think this would be competitive but popular and would give students the opportunity to see their project through from start to finish. This completely ties in with who we are as a sustainability-focused college.
How can learners and staff contribute towards the overall goal to increase the college’s biodiversity?
We are really lucky to have a host of keen staff and students already who manage our ‘Market Garden/Green Space Areas’, but we need more help from staff and students to improve our biodiversity across all campuses. Going forward, we aim to work more closely with the curriculum to involve students and implement their biodiversity ideas. I’m sure there’s some great ideas out there that we haven’t even thought of!