How the Cheshire Wildlife Trust is inspiring a new generation of wildlife explorers

Examining a gall Photo: Rose Galsworthy

Examining a gall Photo: Rose Galsworthy - Credit: Rose Galsworthy

Nick Rowles from Cheshire Wildlife Trust on the work being done to encourage young people to be passionate about their environment.

Planting a tree Photo: Niall Benvie

Planting a tree Photo: Niall Benvie - Credit: Niall Benvie

The government’s recent publication of their 25-year environment plan held strong ambitions for land and sea, and at its helm was a desire to encourage young people to be passionate about their environment. Giving children exciting outdoor educational experiences and helping them to explore and discover the natural world has always been an important part of Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s work.

Since 2017 they have been involved in delivering an exciting new education initiative. Teaching Trees is a new initiative by the Grosvenor Estate, providing curriculum linked sessions for school children to learn about the importance of trees, woodlands and forestry in a fun and hands-on way and gain an appreciation of woodlands’ value for wildlife, timber and for enjoyment.

The Grosvenor Estate is providing the teaching tree sessions to schools for free on woodlands on the estate. The classes follow the Royal Forestry Society’s successful educational programme and are being delivered by Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

The lessons link with many areas of a school’s curriculum from science and maths through to art and physical education – all incorporating different facts about trees and their importance.

Measuring trees Photo: Rose Galsworthy

Measuring trees Photo: Rose Galsworthy - Credit: Rose Galsworthy

Every session gives children the opportunity to learn about trees, woodlands and forestry in a fun and hands-on way and, through their experiences, gain an appreciation of woodlands’ value for wildlife, for timber and for enjoyment.

Research by Play England in 2007 suggested children now spend significantly less time playing outdoors than their parents did. According to this research, only 21% of children play outside every day, whereas 71% of adults did so during their childhood. Children in many cases have lost an important connection with nature which has affected their wellbeing, as well as their knowledge and understanding of the natural world. These changes have had a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of children and have led to a rise in what some people call ‘nature deficit disorder’.

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As Robert Macfarlane’s recent book ‘Lost Words’ put it: ‘All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world – dandelion, otter, bramble and acorn – all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds.’

It has therefore, never been more important to get children outside and learning about nature. The ‘Teaching Trees’ sessions are designed to excite and inform children about their local woodland heritage and the importance woodlands hold today and for the future

Finding out what lives on trees Photo: Claire Huxley

Finding out what lives on trees Photo: Claire Huxley - Credit: Claire Huxley

During the morning of each session, the children are given an introduction to wildlife and woodland management in general. Activities often include learning about what we gain from trees, their role in food chains and fun games.

The children then have an afternoon session of fieldwork in a local woodland on the Eaton Estate. During these sessions the children discover how trees grow, learn how to calculate a tree’s age, find out how they spread their seeds and learn how to identify different species by looking at their buds, leaves and bark. As the sessions are spread over a number of weeks the children can see how trees change as the season progresses and enjoy looking for woodland plants, insects and animals who make the trees their home.

There is also the opportunity for children to get involved in planting a tree and learning how to care for them. They learn about the full cycle of using wood by meeting foresters to learn about their work and the variety of ways timber is used.

The sessions develop the children’s confidence and social skills through giving short presentations, joining in with discussions and taking part in role play. They grow in confidence with each session.

Five schools have taken part: Belgrave, Overleigh St Mary’s, Saighton, Abbeygate Junior School and Eccleston Primary. The project started in autumn 2017 with 30 sessions and 450 children taking part so far. It will continue throughout 2018, with return visits planned for these schools, as well as reaching out to new schools who have expressed an interest in getting involved.

My personal motivation for wanting to deliver outdoor education is linked closely to my own childhood. I grew up in rural Cheshire, and exploring the woodlands and fields surrounding my home was a large part of my free time. If the weather was fine, you wouldn’t see me between breakfast and tea. I feel that my early introduction to the natural world of frog spawn, damming streams, making dens and picking wild blackberries has had a huge influence on who I am today – and my chosen career in environmental education. It’s because of my upbringing that I strive to give today’s children similar opportunities.

At Cheshire Wildlife Trust we strongly believe that by immersing young children in their natural surroundings through outdoor education, we can enable them to become individuals who care and take action to protect their environment. They are the nature conservationists of the future.

* Nick Rowles is Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s People and Wildlife Officer

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