Georgia Spooner and Becky Wilkinson, Royal Forestry Society Teaching Trees
On a crisp autumn morning in a woodland just 20 minutes’ drive from the Arb Association’s head office in Gloucestershire, the Royal Forestry Society’s education project ‘Teaching Trees’ provides free hands-on sessions for one of the many local schools interested in connecting children with woodlands. Children are busy collecting leaves, comparing their shapes and colours, and then using their finds to create their own tree classification guides.
Georgia Spooner, Teaching Trees Officer for Gloucestershire, said, ‘Over the last two years I’ve developed relationships with woodland owners to welcome groups onto their land, often from the most local of schools. Activities are tailored to age, interest and ability and may involve some physical work like brash-piling, investigative work like tree health surveys or identifying trees and animals in the woodland.’
In an age of austerity and with mounting financial pressures on schools, generous donations from members and grants to the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) enable schools to access these visits for free, ensuring that cost is not a barrier to experiencing outdoor learning.
Becky Wilkinson, Teaching Trees Programme Officer, said, ‘For many of the children who take part in one of our sessions it is the first time they have ever been in a woodland. The wonder on their faces as they explore the forest, search for new trees or encounter a woodlouse is truly remarkable. We are committed to giving these opportunities to schools to educate the next generation but also to inspire in children a passion for woodlands and woodland management.’
Teaching Trees takes place in over 30 private woodlands across Ceredigion, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and West Yorkshire through generous support from RFS members, National Parks, local authorities and other woodland owners.
Woodland owners report a huge sense of satisfaction from this initiative. They like to be able to share their woodland and their passion and particularly enjoy sharing ‘care-for’ messages that are specifically relevant to their woodland. These vary from mapping activities to promote understanding of the necessity of public access rights and disease control, to the importance of leaving no trace after a visit, to a game of squirrels and acorns to understand balance and pest control, and to debating the importance of sustainable forestry for timber products and environmental issues.
Following a successful pilot scheme in Staffordshire, Teaching Trees is now also offering Level 2 accredited training for practitioners who want to lead outdoor learning with their own groups. The training combines a strong theoretical grounding in woodland ecosystems, site management and risk assessment for teachers with a wide range of fun activities to take away and use with all ages.
Is it making a difference? One of the schools that the RFS has been working with has said ‘Teaching Trees has provided our children with enthusiasm we don’t see in many areas of the curriculum.’
Teaching Trees has received the Council for Learning Outside the classroom (CLoTC) Quality Badge mark and continues to expand the areas it operates in. For details of free sessions for schools or for Level 2 accredited training email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rfs.org.uk/learning/teaching-trees.
To make sure that as many children as possible can take part (whatever their background and whichever school they go to) we need to keep these sessions free for schools. This means that every year the RFS needs to raise over £100,000 to run Teaching Trees. It only costs £13.30 to get a child out, learning and having fun in woodlands. Visit www.rfs.org.uk/donate or call 01295 678588 to make a donation.
Article taken from The ARB Magazine Issue 184 Spring 2019. As a member you can view The ARB Magazine online, simply Log In and view the 'ARB Magazine' tab in your Account Area.