Engaging children and young people with the natural world has never been more important. The benefits of outdoor learning span from increased nature connection to improved self-esteem and physical wellbeing. But with so many potential risks and barriers, how can we help practitioners feel confident and capable in an outdoor setting and therefore improve access to green space for children and young people? The education team at the National Forest Company set out to tackle this challenge. The National Forest was established in the early 1990s in a post-industrial area of the English Midlands. It covers 200 square miles and has seen a huge transformation from black to green over the last thirty years through an intensive program of tree planting and habitat restoration. However, nature was not designed to be the only beneficiary of this work. Green spaces were created near to where people live, work and learn to promote engagement with nature. It became clear early on that working with schools and youth groups across the Forest would be vital to making this happen. Here we describe the varied ways that outdoor learning provision has been supported and improved in the National Forest – from traditional in-school settings to engagement through arts and culture. We address some of the challenges facing outdoor learning providers and offer a pathway to success that can be followed elsewhere. By offering a variety of ways to engage with the local treescapes, the National Forest hopes to foster the next generation of custodians of this ever-changing landscape.

Author Biography

Gill Forrester

Gill Forrester began her career as a Countryside Ranger on the NW coast of England. Passionate about the environment and education, she subsequently worked as a primary school teacher and then Environmental Education Advisor within disadvantaged communities. Holding an MA in International Tourism, Gill is committed to working with communities to raise awareness of heritage, the environment and sustainability. Now the Community and Wellbeing Manager for the National Forest Company, Gill focusses on connecting communities to the Forest around them.

Jo Maker

Jo has over 20 years’ experience of working in the arts, developing place based cultural projects that respond to landscape, heritage and ecology. As Arts & Creativity Manager for the National Forest Company she develops strategic projects across 200 square miles of the Midlands which reflect upon and reimagine our relationship to nature, climate and time.

Hollie Davison

Hollie Davison is a Project Officer at the National Forest Company, focusing on supporting community projects to bring more people out into nature to support their wellbeing, enhance their appreciation for the natural world and to better understand the importance of the environment around them.

Heather Gilbert

Heather Gilbert is the Research and Evidence Manager for the National Forest Company. After completing her PhD at the University of Nottingham, UK, Heather undertook several years’ fieldwork studying biodiversity trends around the world. Much of this work involved engaging students of all ages with biodiversity research and the conservation issues it informs. Heather now works with the National Forest teams to support a diverse range of programmes encompassing environmental, societal and economic research into building a sustainable future with trees at the heart.



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