The RFS Schools Excellence Awards, sponsored by PEFC and ECL Howard Watson Smith, are held annually, travelling around the country on a seven year cycle. In 2012 educational organisations from Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire were invited to enter projects that increase young people’s understanding and appreciation of the environmental, social and economic potential of trees, woodlands and forests and of the link between trees and everyday wood products. Eight schools made it on to the shortlist.
Gold Award Winner: Welton Free Rangers Forest School Nursery, Midsomer Norton, Somerset
RFS Schools Award Gold Winners, Free Rangers Nursery, plant a Black Mulberry tree to mark their achievement. From left to right, Forest Schools leader Ed Harding with RFS education officer Debbie Cotton, Nursery Co-founder Charlotte Lucas, musician Tim Graham and children from the nursery.
The judges said: “The Welton Free Rangers Nursery is an outstanding project which not only exposes young children to a forest school experience on a daily basis but embraces an ethos of completely immersing children in a natural environment; even when they are indoors. ... They have truly brought the outdoors in!”
The Nursery was only set up in August 2011 but has achieved great things. It caters for almost 100 children from six months to 5 years of age, but such has been the success of their approach that when children are too old for nursery they still want to come back!
The project has also reached out to involve the local community with ‘big dig days’ when parents and children planted over 500 trees and a new hedge.
The Nursery has developed two Forest School areas, both with fire pits (one with a bell tent complete with wooden stage) and will be developing a third. The £1000 prize money will be used to purchase apple tree species that are nearly extinct for an orchard project which will ultimately produce apple juice for the nursery, and a ‘living’ willow hedge.
Further details of the project can be downloaded as a case study (PDF) via the link at the end of this page.
Founder and co-owner Charlotte Lucas said: “The unique teaching method that is Forest School enables practitioners at Free Rangers to nurture the holistic development of a child; focusing not only on their learning but giving equal measure to their physical, social and emotional progress and instilling a life-long love of learning.”
Silver Award Winner: Okehampton Primary School, Devon
Planting a Blenheim Orange tree, RFS Education Officer Debbie Cotton (back centre) with Okehampton Primary School’s Eco-School Coordinator Frances Rickwood, poetry teacher Clive Pig and the children from Okehampton Primary School.
The judges praised the school’s Eco-School Coordinator Frances Rickwood for her ‘hedgucation’ project.
The judges said: “Frances really left no stone unturned both in terms of teaching methods and curriculum links and her contact with outside organisations and individuals. We were staggered at the effort she had gone to, to look at the topic from every possible angle and to include everyone at the school!”
Okehampton Primary School’s Eco School coordinator Frances Rickwood has put together a truly ingenious project with the aim of engaging all 600 pupils in some ‘hedgucation’! This two-term project had a special focus: to teach children about the ecological importance of Devon hedgerows and their role in supporting local populations of dormice.
Among the many activities were ‘hedgucation’ classes for Years 3 and 4 to plant and help manage local hedges; a meeting with Dora the dormouse and a local dormouse specialist; monitoring a local dormouse population with a Dartmoor Ranger, making dormouse nest tubes and acting out the part of a living hedge at the FWAG Kingfisher Awards.
The long-term aim is to produce a children’s story book written and illustrated by the children about a dormouse and its life in a Devonshire woodland or hedge.
For the school, Frances Rickwood said: “We were thrilled when we heard about receiving the Silver Award. The children have really enjoyed learning about dormice and hedges this year and we are looking forward to carrying our project over into the next academic year with the help of the prize money. Our hedges are looking great at the moment and our Year 3 children are searching through their leaves for mini beasts as part of their outdoor learning focus for this half term.”
Commended: The John Of Gaunt School, Trowbridge, Wiltshire
The judges said: “We were particularly impressed with the hands-on nature of the project and its long term impact. The site had clearly benefitted from the assisted management for over 20 years. This really is an inspiring project which clearly teaches young people how to care for, respect and understand their local woodland environment.”
The John of Gaunt Secondary School caters for pupils up to sixth form. For the past 20 years it has been involved with the Woodland Trust helping to implement a long-term management plan at nearby Clanger Wood.
Year 7 and 8 children all take part in coppicing days at the SSSI woodland from October to April, gaining an understanding of the benefits of coppicing for woodland products and for biodiversity.
A recent ‘chain of pearls’ project is creating a line of sunny and sheltered glades along minor paths to encourage more wild flowers and butterflies. Some pupils involved in the early years of the projects are now parents at the school and see their own children actively involved.
For the school, Geography Teacher, Mike Stevens, said: “As well as incorporating many curriculum links the woods provide a memorable experience for all pupils. The project is designed to raise awareness of how woodland can be managed in a sustainable way. Some of our more challenged pupils in the classroom are the most enthusiastic and engaged in the woods. These are the ones we take on more regular trips, when time-tabling allows. They become ‘experts’ supporting the work of perhaps more academically successful pupils who are nevertheless sometimes out of their comfort zone in the woods.”