Conservation inspiration: outdoor learning

School’s out – with Emma in a Devon forest!

No walls surround this classroom at Churchwood Valley park where lessons include bushcraft and wild art

Environmental education is a vital part of the work that David Bellamy Conservation Award Scheme parks undertake. At Churchwood Valley park in Devon, they have set up the wonderful Churchwood Forest School (CWFS) partnership, led by qualified forest school leader, Emma Draper. School parties from local villages and towns take part and special needs groups are also catered for. The activities on offer include, bushcraft, wild art and firelighting. Real adventures in the wild!

“The project has provided a positive, non-impactful land use for our woods,” says park manager, Tom Stansell. “It’s also provided some valuable land management as Emma spends some of her time removing our overly abundant Cherry Laurel. She also provides a great service for our guests and the local community, which gives us a great activity to advertise and is also useful for generating publicity.”

The initial set up took about three months of tireless work from Emma. She used what natural resources were available on the park (such as timber) as well as adding equipment such as a slack line, a cargo net, a compost toilet, infra-red wildlife cameras, and a shelter. The park covered the cost of Emma chainsaw training and lent her tools and resources and occasionally labour, as and when needed.

For Churchwood, the main challenge was to ensure the safety of those involved. The woods on the park are normally surveyed for tree safety every 18 months, but as the forest school uses the woods several times a week, a more in-depth survey and some remedial work was required.

As soon as CWFS opened its doors, word spread rapidly and, with a little bit of social media marketing, Emma’s sessions were nearly all booked up. Since then the CWFS has not stopped expanding the wonderful range of activities on offer.

“Our guests feel it is a very positive initiative,” says Tom. “I’ve never heard a negative comment made. We even have some of our older guests enquiring if there is a maximum age for taking part. To parks thinking of doing something similar, the best advice I could give is: Find an Emma! She has been the driving force behind the whole thing.”

Seeking inspiration for new ways in which your park can help protect the natural world? In these articles, Rufus Bellamy, head of the David Bellamy Conservation Award Scheme, highlights some of the latest initiatives being taken. For more ideas, visit http://stayuknews.co.uk/conservation/