Outdoor learning in the Cotswolds

Taking the classroom outdoors encourages a new generation to enjoy and care for the Cotswolds (c) Co

Taking the classroom outdoors encourages a new generation to enjoy and care for the Cotswolds (c) Cotswolds AONB - Credit: Archant

Taking the classroom outdoors is fun, inspires fresh ideas, broadens horizons – and encourages a new generation to enjoy and care for the Cotswolds

(c) Cotswolds AONB

(c) Cotswolds AONB - Credit: Archant

“For many of the children, it was their first experience of a farm and the Cotswolds,” says Gavin Bishop, Year 5 teacher at Rose Hill Primary School, Oxford. “Many made a real connection between what we eat and where it comes from, for the first time, and you’d be surprised (given their initial reaction to the farmyard smells) how many talked about living and working in the countryside in the future.”

Rose Hill’s trip to Old Farm, Dorn, was organised with the Cotswold Voluntary Wardens, who throughout 2018 have been focusing on education as the theme for their 50th Anniversary: engaging more young people with the Cotswolds as a place of learning, recreation and work, and encouraging the countryside guardians of tomorrow. The Cotswolds Conservation Board has funded a Discover the Cotswolds folder for schools highlighting tailor-made activities that Wardens can help with – Rose Hill’s excursion also included the Rollright Stones, where pupils experienced an “awe and wonder” moment on seeing the prehistoric stones for the first time, Gavin Bishop says. “Hopefully some seeds have been sown that will grow into a real love and appreciation for rural landscapes.”

Already twelve schools and over 500 pupils, from Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and the Bath area, have enjoyed activities ranging from discovering fossils to learning about Roman life, orienteering, compass work and weaving.

Cotswold Voluntary Wardens have been working with schools and youth groups since the 1970s; Gerry Simper, a former teacher and now a Warden who organises educational work in the east area of the Cotswolds, says: “The countryside is a massive yet underused resource for educational and fun activities that in our experience has proved an eye-opener for many children and staff alike. In many cases these learning opportunities are on the school’s doorstep but for children from inner city schools in particular, a trip to the countryside offers a special chance to make new discoveries outside their everyday environment.”

(c) Cotswolds AONB

(c) Cotswolds AONB - Credit: Archant

Sonic drawings to bushcraft

Voluntary warden Danny Towl, also with a background in education, has been busy on another project, organising visits with professional artist Laura Denning to spend creative days with schools / organisations around the Cotswolds.

Using iPads and digital technology pupils at Bledington Primary and Winchcombe School have captured sights and sounds from their surroundings – woodlands, hedgerows, pond and stream life – to create short “moving paintings / sonic drawings,” Laura says. Pupils “particularly enjoy playing with my hydrophone – underwater sound recorder – and begin to get an insight into the world of ‘sound effects’.”

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Cotswold Voluntary Wardens have also been involved with elements of a pilot scheme arranged with the Prince’s Trust and Young Gloucestershire charity that ran through the summer, encouraging young people from urban areas to explore the countryside and what it has to offer, including job opportunities. Coming from locations including Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud and Lydney, young people had a go at skills like dry stone walling, map reading, bushcraft and outdoor cooking.

“The session they didn’t stop talking about was bushcraft, it was absolutely brilliant,” says Young Gloucestershire Programme Leader Yazmin Nicette. “They got to gut a pigeon, cook it on the campfire and eat it. It was real survival stuff!” The pilot scheme has been “really worth while,” she says, and it is hoped to build further on the experiences.

Rural skills

Meanwhile, Edward Bonn, rural skills officer at the Cotswolds Conservation Board has been heading up a new Rural Skills Programme for Young People. Courses are available in a range of traditional skills that have helped to shape distinctive landscape features of the Cotswolds and it is really important to keep the skills alive to maintain those features, Edward says. Courses can also raise awareness of rural job opportunities.

Year 10 students at Burford School have taken part in a two-day hedgelaying course and two-day dry stone walling course. “We wanted to celebrate the rural arts and help our students to understand the benefits of conservation in all its forms,” says assistant headteacher Stuart Bassett.

The students cleared and laid 80 metres of hedge in the (typically Cotswolds) Midlands style on site at school; and they dismantled and restored (re-using the old stone) a ten-metre stretch of traditional field wall surviving from when the school had a working farm – the aim is to restore the whole 40-metre wall.

“The students have not only learnt new skills within the two disciplines, but have also gained team working skills and pushed themselves both physically and mentally,” Stuart says.

Students are full of enthusiasm too. Sophie Rawlins, who says the courses were fun and helped her to de-stress and not worry about exams, feels she learnt new skills that could transfer into a future career, “Especially something linked to design.” Jasper Raistrick says, “It is important to rejuvenate an old craft for the future” and “I might even look for a part time job.” Kai Shayler says, “It is great being outdoors” and he would definitely recommend the programme to others.


Get learning outdoors

Discover the Cotswolds: folder of activities for schools and groups – tel: 01451 862000; info@cotswoldsaonb.org.uk

Cotswold Arts Project: Rebecca Jones, volunteer coordinator – tel: 01451 862008; Rebecca.jones@cotswoldsaonb.org.uk

Rural Skills Programme for Young People: Edward Bonn, rural skills officer – tel: 01451 862032; ruralskills@cotswoldsaonb.org.uk

Volunteering as a Cotswold Warden: Rebecca Jones, volunteer coordinator – tel: 01451 862008; Rebecca.jones@cotswoldsaonb.org.uk

Visit the Cotswolds Conservation Board website here.

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