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Biophilia in the RIC gardens and beyond


RIC Dome 2 1

RIC’s gardens won a Kent Wildlife Trust award and are central to our sustainability vision

Leaving spaces for nature and wildness is crucial for carbon sequestration, and the gardens are our own contribution to that. They support a range of wildlife from bees to foxes. Frogs proliferate in our pond and dragonfly larvae pupate. We have a tall tree canopy, shorter mature fruit trees, including medlar, and are letting some hedgerow plants such as hawthorn and hazel flourish. 

Rewildng Star Hill

The contribution made by the garden to student welfare  was recognised by the ISI: “Pupils demonstrate an excellent aesthetic appreciation of the visual arts and their natural surroundings. They appreciate the peace, greenery and wildlife within an urban setting and enjoy the gardens for relaxation and personal reflection.” 

The garden is an inspirationally bucolic backdrop for the College’s artists, film-makers and photographers as well as being the venue for our annual answer to Glastonbury and Latitude- The RIC Summer Festival.  This year, textiles students took the gardens as a starting point to create, print and embroider cushions for the RIC reception areas.

When we have built on the site we’ve always done so in a responsible way: our underground theatre benefited from low voltage electrical installation and modern construction techniques, combining to give the unique space a minimal carbon footprint. We’re always thinking about innovative, environmentally conscious teaching spaces to inspire our community. 

New last year was a Geodesic Dome, the iconic structure imagineered by polymath, sustainability and design pioneer Buckminster Fuller. Fuller perfected the mathematical ideas behind domes and hoped that their greater strength and space for minimum weight might be the future of housing. Our RIC Eden Project style garden dome is now in place. 

Free range education

We focus on fostering a love for the Kent countryside, maximising fieldwork opportunities to provide students with an understanding of and the skills to protect, their local environment. For this, we are the proud winners of a Wilder Kent Bronze Award (June 2022-June 2023) from the Kent Wildlife Trust. 

Twice weekly sustainability lessons started in Year 7 in September 2023 and are moving up with this cohort so that by September 2025, all students in Years 7-9 will have timetabled outdoor lessons, complemented by what they learn in the rest of the curriculum. 

In 2024-5, Year 7 will study Water and Biodiversity whilst Year 8 will join study Soil and Waste. Year 9 will work on reducing our energy consumption.

We intend to be in the first cohort offering the Natural History GCSE to our Year 10 and 11 students. 

Our Sustainability Scholarship is offered annually to a student entering Year 7 who shows a passion for nature, outstanding knowledge and understanding of the natural world and/or have taken action to help environmental sustainability.

Sustainable and regenerative projects 2023-4

Year 7 students took responsibility for beginning the process of transforming the College gardens into a self-sustaining ecosystem. The theme for Year 7 has been water. Students have designed an irrigation system that harnesses rainwater, limiting the amount of tap water required to sustain our gardens. 

Students and staff have contributed to the inaugural Gardens Biodiversity Audit. Year 7 made bird feeders in November to help our feathered friends over the winter and to see which species we could spot in the gardens. In May, we undertook pondipping, finding sticklebacks in our stream and newts (not tadpoles!) in the pond. We concluded that the newts must be eating the frogspawn that was laid in early spring.

Year 7 have visited the river Stour at Fordwich to observe beavers’ effects on water retention and local ecosystems. We also went to Bough Beech Reservoir in Edenbridge to learn how SES Water treat and conserve tap water.

Orchid counting and deer spotting

We spent a glorious couple of days volunteering at Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve in Cuxton. Ben Sweeney, Reserve Manager for Plantlife entrusted RIC’s Year 7 students with the annual audit of Man orchids and Common spotted orchids at the site. Ben said, ‘This is the first time children have been involved with the vital conservation work we undertake here and they have carried it out with such expertise and skill. I am very impressed.

Plantlife is the global charity working for a world rich in plants and fungi. Ranscombe Farm includes chalk grassland, commercial farmland, and ancient woodland, and is their flagship site. It is the foremost habitat in the UK for rare arable wild plant species in the UK. 

7A found 104 Man Orchids, in line with numbers two years ago. 7B, surveying a smaller section of the site, found 28 Common spotted orchids which will contribute to Ben's total count.

We were honoured to see two specimens of a rare varient of Bee orchid that enthusiasts have travelled from all over the UK to see. Rare Meadow clary still grows on the same site that it was discovered in 1699. We also saw Pyramid orchids and a range of other plants including another rare species - Rough mallow - along with irises and clematis (student's photo to follow).

On the second day a pair of fallow deer welcomed us as we followed Ben up the track and as we left, Alex, our Biology teacher, saw five deers on the edge of the woods.

Ben explained how he is gradually restoring the ancient woodland's biodiversity. He showed us the importance of standing deadwood for insect species.

As if to prove his point, Arlo in 7B, looking at the deadwood in an ancient pollarded Hornbeam, spotted the first Stag beetle Ben had seen on the site in his 16 years managing the estate.

Think Globally, Act Locally: Our Commitment to the Environment

Gardens as our Classroom

We love and learn from our College gardens.

We cultivate an appreciation for nature.

Guardians of Nature

We respect our wild places and enhance biodiversity.

We protect our trees as guardians of our College ecosystem.

Kent Countryside Connection

We love and learn from the Kent countryside.

We volunteer, in the field, to better understand and protect our local environment.

Sustainable Practices

We recycle and save energy to reduce our carbon footprint.

We strive for sustainability in all our actions and encourage others to do the same.

Educational Outreach

As we grow, we aim to share our knowledge and practices to inspire more people to think globally and act locally.

Together, we make a difference for our College, our community, and our planet.

Year  10 students visited Howletts Wildlife Park to connect our study of Romanticism and texts such as ‘H is for Hawk’ to natural life. 

Students undertook the RIC Amphibian Conservation project on frog conservation in the school pond. Jack in Year 11 led the project, he works for the National Centre for Reptile Welfare. We tested 30 frogs for ranavirus as part of a study tracking the spread of the disease in UK amphibians. 

We volunteered monitoring the Nashenden Down site weekly to assess the biodiversity of vegetation prior to the introduction of Iron Age Pigs. This project gained international media attention when Leonardo di Caprio took to social media to share updates on the bison now roaming local woods. 

As part of the College’s Sustainable Careers Month our Year 12 students attended a sustainable technology  event at The Engineering and Design Institute, London. Students were introduced to innovative practices and designed and built their own wind turbines, looking at how they can reduce costs and promote sustainability. 

Sustainable careers and skills of the conservationist

We work to begin to equip students with the skills needed to undertake conservation work in tough environments. Students of all age groups develop outdoor survival and orienteering skills via the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. 

This year, Year 7 have participated in canoeing and kayaking activities on the River Stour at Fordwich and our Staff Sustainability group undertook a twilight canoe on the solstice, seeing beavers, kingfishers and herons on the Stour.

To develop the skills required for conservation work in mountainous regions, we offer Sixth Form students the opportunity to undertake a 6 week National Indoor Climbers Association Scheme Level 1 certificate.

Sustainability video 


Sustainable operations 

Rochester Independent College is proud to hold Planet Mark certification within our family of schools, Dukes Education. 

Achieving the Planet Mark is based on the commitment to continuous improvement in sustainability in our business operations by measuring and reducing our carbon footprint and engaging our stakeholders. Part of this involves working closely with Ecodriver to convert our multiple College energy meters to SMART meters to enable our Year 9 students to monitor and help reduce our energy usage across the College from September 2024. We hope to build a transparent web-based system to enable us to analyse energy consumption data, identify areas of waste and reduce our consumption. We hope to share this practice with RIC families to enable them to save energy, reducing their carbon footprint and saving money as well as equipping students with the skills to monitor and reduce their own energy consumption for life. 

We also aim to reduce paper and toner usage. Our use of the Google for Education suite of apps enables teachers to set and mark work on Google Classroom instead of on paper, thus reducing our carbon footprint. 

Through Planet Mark, Dukes Education has protected an area of endangered rainforest thanks to Cool Earth; a charity working alongside rainforest communities to halt deforestation. Its pledge through Cool Earth goes directly towards supporting the Asháninka community in Central Peru.

Dukes has also helped the Eden Project – an educational charity building connections with each other and the living world, exploring how we can work together towards a better future.

We are currently working with Wilder Carbon to look to offsetting remaining carbon emissions in conservation projects undertaken by the Wildlife Trusts within the UK.

Diversity and inclusion

The RIC way

School can be different

Lower school

A world of difference