Since 2008, thanks to the generosity of players of People's Postcode Lottery, the Wildlife Trusts have been able to inspire people from all walks of life to discover, enjoy and reconnect with nature. The Wildlife Trusts run conservation projects, outdoor education programmes and wildlife activities in Yorkshire, Northumberland, Scotland and Wales.
Thanks to the further support of £150,000 in 2015, the Wildlife Trusts will be giving 2,000 inner city school children and families in Birmingham, Leicester and Manchester regular opportunities to spend time outdoors through a series of Forest Schools. Forest Schools give children regular time in a natural setting, such as a wood, where outdoor play is combined with activities designed to help develop skills and confidence.
Young people are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Fewer than one in 10 children regularly play in wild places compared to almost 50% a generation ago. The term 'nature-deficit disorder' has been widely adopted to describe this disconnection from nature, and it is a contributing factor to wider concerns about the mental and physical wellbeing of our children.
Forest Schools are developed from the Scandinavian model of learning through play outdoors. They help address a multitude of health and wellbeing concerns, as well as help children develop confidence, social skills, knowledge and understanding of their natural surroundings.
Mayflower Primary School in Leicester is one of the schools taking part. With special educational needs and many children who speak English as their second language, pupils like nine-year-old Ali, who have very limited access to green spaces and find the traditional classroom environment challenging, are now flourishing. Thanks to the Forest Schools programme, Ali now has the freedom to explore, initiate and direct his own learning.
Enthused after his first visit to a Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust Forest School session, Ali exclaimed, "I am so proud of myself. I found, for the first time in my life, a shell in the woods. I'm never going to forget this day."
Two other children who benefitted from these sessions were Sam and Sanjit. Working industriously yet quietly, these boys talked openly to their Forest School leader about their 'journey sticks' – sticks decorated with wild materials gathered during their time in the woods. Both boys agreed that the door snail shells were their favourite finds.
There's nothing particularly unusual about this, until you learn from their teacher that this was the first time she had heard either child speak while at school. She remarked, "If they have the confidence to speak to teachers and their peers after just one session, imagine what regular classes like this could do for their self-esteem."
That is what is remarkable about Forest Schools – simply by reconnecting children with the nature around them and allowing them the freedom outdoors to learn at their own pace, they leave feeling more empowered.
Over the last several years, players of People's Postcode Lottery have awarded nearly £6 Million to the various wildlife trusts across the UK, including the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Wildlife Trust Wales and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
It is thanks to this support that these seeds of excitement and love for the natural world are being sown, helping children grow into confident young people with self-worth and a passion to protect the natural world around them.