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Childhood experiences of nature hold the key to raising the public’s environmental awareness, according to a top official at a public institution for environmental education in Germany.

Heide Bergmann serves as joint director of Ecostation Freiburg, located in the city of Freiburg, which is known for its drastic environmental protection policies.

During a lecture Sunday in Tokyo, Bergmann said that only those who have discovered the wonders of nature first hand and have grown to love the natural world can conserve the environment.

But the children of today, especially those living in urban areas, have too few opportunities to experience nature, she observed.

“Many children spend more time inside the house,” Bergmann said. “I hope they (have chances to) approach nature and gain a curiosity for it.”

Bergmann, who is also a staffer at Germany’s biggest environmental citizens’ group, BUND, is in Japan to give lectures and hold workshops on environmental education.

Ecostation Freiburg, established in 1986, has organized seminars and events in which children and adults can experience nature and learn the importance of conservation, Bergmann explained. It offers children’s programs such as observing creatures in garden soil, cultivating and eating organic vegetables and learning how to reduce waste.

The center’s facility, made of local timber, was built to save energy and resources, as it is equipped with solar panels on the roof and used paper and cork are employed as heat insulter, Bergmann said.

About 12,000 people visit the facility annually, while some 200 classes or groups of children from schools and kindergartens come to the center, according to Bergmann.

In Germany, citizens’ environmental activities gained momentum in the 1980s, when people were concerned over threats to nature, including the effect of radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and contamination of the Rhine River, she said.

Since then, the central and local governments have made efforts to protect nature and passed legislation for that purpose.

“But such laws will be of no use unless the public is aware for the issue,” Bergmann said. “Thus we need the facility for educating people about the environment.”

In German schools, teachers who specialize in a variety of subjects — such as biology, geography and German — cooperate to teach children about the environment, she said.

In this respect, they pursue programs offered at facilities such as Ecostation, Bergmann said, adding that there are about 600 environmental education facilities in Germany.

In Japan, there are moves to build environmental education facilities, according to the nongovernmental organization FoE Japan. Some schools have also started to teach children about the environment during comprehensive studies classes, during which schools can teach any topic of their choice.

However, as only a few teachers have ever taught children about the environment, observers said they are encountering difficulty in conducting classes effectively.

According to FoE Japan, about 180 people, including teachers and municipal staff, came to the lecture Sunday.

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