Outdoor learning sessions for young people, hosted by Cotswolds National Landscape, are proving a hit: sparking interest in the countryside and training potential future land managers 

George G, Joe A and Riley B all agree it’s good to be out of the classroom in the fresh air, enjoying ‘different things from what we do in school’. As Year 9 students in 2022 they were among five pupils from The Cotswold School, Bourton-on-the-Water, who took part in nine full-day outdoor learning sessions spread across two terms.  

Hosted by Cotswolds National Landscape the outdoor activities aim to give young people experience of rural skills vital to looking after the landscape and to open their eyes to the possibility of future careers in the countryside. 

Sessions for The Cotswold School group included drystone walling, hedgelaying, safe use of tools, and different types of woodland management. When we chat the three students enthuse about foraging for ingredients to make and cook woodland stew over an open fire: ‘it actually tasted quite nice! And we carved apples and put chocolate on them to melt over the fire.’ 

Great British Life: Student George was amongst six students who began to learn the necessities of hedgerow and meadow management, care of the landscape and its features, as well as build their skills and confidence with learning to drive a tractorStudent George was amongst six students who began to learn the necessities of hedgerow and meadow management, care of the landscape and its features, as well as build their skills and confidence with learning to drive a tractor (Image: Russell Sach)

The toughest activity, they say, was moving logs up a steep slope (there are light hearted jokes about who slipped and who fell), and the most enjoyable activity was tractor driving: ‘it was fun, a bit of a challenge,’ they say as they get into an animated discussion over the contrasts in handling ‘two very different tractors: the older one was very plain and simple, quite easy’, while the technology on the modern one took a lot more to understand.  

Instructors across all sessions ‘knew everything and if we didn’t get something the first time, they would go over and over it again until we did,’ the three students say, adding: ‘They were all-inclusive; they asked us lots of questions about what we do.’  

In the final session, at FarmED the centre for Farm and Food Education at Shipton-under-Wychwood, the group found themselves acting as instructors for a change: leading pond-dipping and bug-hunting activities for primary age children. It was good to experience the boot on the other foot, they say, also admitting some of the children were a handful! (Their teacher, listening in to our chat, suggests with a smile they might now be more appreciative of the challenges of teaching – they agree.) 

Great British Life: Joe from The Cotswold School, Bourton-on-the-WaterJoe from The Cotswold School, Bourton-on-the-Water (Image: Russell Sach)

Are they keen to get jobs working in the countryside? George and Joe say ‘yes’, including in farming, and when they leave school (hopefully with the required qualifications) their sights are set on Hartpury College / University or Harper Adams University. Riley is focused on another practical career, in mechanics.  

They say the sessions have boosted their confidence in their abilities and, back in the classroom, given them greater understanding of the relevance to their career goals of lessons like geography, biology, science, as well as choices available to them.  

The Cotswold School students were chosen for the chance to take part in the Cotswolds National Landscape rural skills project because it was thought they would benefit from the experiences. Teachers say it has been ‘a massive success’ thanks to the variety of ‘high-quality learning opportunities […] in an industrial environment which we are unable to create in schools. 

‘It has been amazing to see the pupils’ confidence levels develop during the programme,’ they add: increasing their independent skills and gaining unique insight into careers and activities within rural settings. Moreover, ‘the school has witnessed improved academic engagement and focus […] Pupils’ confidence levels and career focus has been outstanding during the programme and after.’  

Sessions for a new cohort of students from the school are already under way. 

Great British Life: Riley from The Cotswold School, Bourton-on-the-WaterRiley from The Cotswold School, Bourton-on-the-Water (Image: Russell Sach)


The outdoor learning project runs for two years, from autumn 2021 through 2023, explains James Webb, Partnerships and Fundraising Lead at Cotswolds National Landscape. In the first year some 450 places have been filled by children and young people, from inside and outside the Cotswolds. They have come mainly from schools, ranging from Naunton Park Primary School and Thomas Keble School (Stroud) to Al-Ashraf Secondary School for Girls (Gloucester).  

A forest school-style approach has been adopted for younger children, taking them to green spaces to learn about plants and animals, while sessions for older students like those from The Cotswold School have incorporated rural skills in farm and woodland settings.

Great British Life: George, Riley and Joe: Land managers of the futureGeorge, Riley and Joe: Land managers of the future (Image: Russell Sach)

‘We have taken students to multiple farms to show different systems, from very small organic farms to big commercial arable farms and diversifications,’ James says. ‘We recommend multiple sessions of different activities with a group to embed learning.’ 

Reflecting on The Cotswold School students, he adds: ‘we want them to realise that we believe very strongly they are the next generation of land managers and leaders in the Cotswolds. We can show them different careers in the outdoors, but the direction of travel is up to them, and we tell them they need to think about the [academic] qualifications they need in order to get where they want to go. If they want to drive a tractor with GPS, for example, they need a basic understanding of English, maths and science.’  

Funding for the outdoor learning project has come from several sources including Thames Water, whose dedicated Community Investment Fund is used to support (among other things) projects that: benefit a resilient environment; improve social mobility and access to skills; enhance wellbeing through water-based activities; help to conserve species like water voles; raise awareness of water management and conservation through education; and promote citizen science. 

The Cotswolds National Landscape outdoor learning ‘is a wonderful project to be involved with,’ says Claudia Innes, Thames Water’s Community Projects Manager. ‘Working with young people is so important, and as well as increasing skills and team working, we hope the sessions will improve wellbeing, and mental and physical health. I have had fantastic updates on pupils’ focus and engagement.’  

Last words, then, to George, Joe and Riley: would they recommend rural skills and outdoors training to other students? They reply with a resounding: ‘Yes.’ Joe adds: ‘I’ve been encouraging all my mates in the year below to do it because it gives you ideas and other job options.’  


To find out more about Cotswolds National Landscape’s outdoors learning project, contact James Webb, Partnerships and Fundraising Lead, james.webb@cotswoldsaonb.org.uk