Today, I’m going to look at the question ‘Can Forest School harm the woodland?
Woodlands provide such a rich and stimulating environment for learning.
There are a wide variety of natural materials available for children to use and this is encouraged as part of Forest School.
An added bonus is that the environment is constantly changing in obvious or subtle ways depending on the time of year, time of day or weather conditions.
Given this, the opportunities with natural materials are constantly changing and this is incredible in developing a child’s creativity, problem solving, curiosity, observation, description and I could literally go on and on.
The use of the natural resources has to be managed with care, however.
If we use them with abandon, we may find that we exhaust the supply created by the woodland, and that could be catastrophic for species relying on those resources.
It is a careful and subtle symphony conducted by the Forest School Leader.
Take the use of wood for fires as an example.
If I was to have a fire each and everyday and took wood from the forest each and everyday without regard, it would have a large impact on the woodland and not only the trees but the creatures, fungus and lichens that rely on the wood and are relied upon by the ecosystem they are part of.
It is not to say that I don’t use wood that is readily available in the forest that I run sessions, because I do.
But it is about subtly guiding children to areas that haven’t been picked from before or managing the regularity that wood is picked from the forest for fire or indeed other activities.
Vital skills are learnt through this process of finding, selecting and using deadwood, but so is the act of and discussion around not overusing a limited resource.
If we were to pick from it each and everyday and have a fire each and everyday then it would inevitably run out.
For this reason I bring firewood and kindling with me to the site.
It is important to only take what is sustainable, so that the woodland can continue without too much impact. It is important to re-use what we have, and limit the harvesting of resources to a sustainable level.
Another aspect that needs to be managed is the footfall — the amount of time and people who are accessing the woods.
If we overuse an area, the footfall has a negative impact on the environment, causing bare earth to be exposed by the trampling of the field layer and damage to roots.
This could also impact on ground nesting birds and biodiversity. It is best to use an area sparingly and allow it time to recover before using it again.
This is why from time to time or dependent on outside factors such as heavy, prolonged rain I will move our fire circle, which has natural seating, as I know this area receives a high degree of footfall.
If we were to mindlessly keep using that area any natural vegetation or tree roots below the surface would become exposed or destroyed, which is unsustainable.
Now, it must be said no matter how careful anyone is as soon as human beings take a step in a natural area they are in essence harming it much like any other animals. But once again it is about managing and balancing the orchestra of life, via the conductor that is the Forest School Leader.
Woodlands can indeed also benefit from a Forest School.
Using the example of fire again, small amounts of scattered ash from the remains go a long way to adding nutrients to the soil.
Whilst the moving of leaves, soil and other such materials through play or walking create new opportunities for natural material breakdown and return of nutrients to the soil.
Indeed, the management of woodland by a Forest School Leader and groups themselves, knowing what to remove and what not to, allows for increases in biodiversity which is the variety of plant and animal life in a particular place.
Woodland environments also benefit from Forest School in the long term because by allowing children to have contact with nature it is setting the foundations for a deep and meaningful connection with it, so that they wish to care for it for the rest of their lives.
My goodness do we need that!
Children will also become able to identify flora and fauna around them, increasing awareness and interest in nature and ecology.
Through being able to identify a species enables a person to be aware of its existence, thus enabling a person to care about its existence.
In the long term we may develop adults who are active in preserving and managing woodlands, who then pass on their passion and commitment to their future generation.
Remember, you’re just one session away…