23 August 2021 – The staff and governors at Sheerhatch Primary School were already keen to develop the space at their Cople site for outdoor learning before being approached by the Forest of Marston Vale, but needed guidance and support to move the first stage of their plans forward.
Reclaiming unutilised space for outdoor learning
The team spent time working with the Head Teacher to establish their priorities, looking at the site plan and establishing the best area to create the copse and glade that they were looking for. An area along the perimeter fence was also identified for planting.
Once established the school will have a multi-purpose outdoor space, perfect for:
- outdoor learning
- forest school activities
- encouraging wildlife
- engaging with different community groups.
It will also be used by the pupils from the school’s other site in Willington, and give the two school opportunities for whole school activities in a space much larger than any one classroom.
Summary of the project
The Forest of Marston Vale already had an established relationship with Cople Lower School under the previous Head Teacher, but when the Head moved on and Cople Lower merged with neighbouring Willington Lower to form Sheerhatch Primary School in 2017 the connection with the Community Forest broke down through the transition. When the team at the Forest were contacting local schools as part of the Trees for Climate community outreach, the time appeared right to re-establish this link.
Having identified an area of undeveloped school ground at the back of their classroom – and with a renewed interest in pursuing outdoor learning – the teaching staff and governors had already started to look at ways of making this space into a usable resource, and welcomed the help that the Forest could offer. With the guidance and financial support available through Trees for Climate the school was able to start unlocking the potential on this unloved land.
The Forest team drew up a scheme that would complement the other planned Forest School elements and incorporated a copse area for exploration as well as open space for learning and recreation. Community Engagement Officer Jo also met with the Head Teacher Helen Ryan to look at the species mix, and together they decided on a selection of native broadleaf trees.
If was important to the school that the mix benefit a wide range of wildlife from the adjacent open fields, and also support a variety of wildflowers that could all be used for outdoor education.
The board of governors threw their full support behind the plans, and got straight to work clearing the overgrown area of bramble themselves!
The tree planting took place over 4 days and was truly a whole school effort with teachers, governors and pupils all pitching in. With the Forest team taking care of logistics, the teachers organised classes on to a rota so that all Key Stage 2 children got the opportunity to be involved. They planted wild cherry, rowan, birch, crab apple, oak and hornbeam – a total of 500 trees across a 0.2 hectare area.
Now that the area is more accessible the school plan to share access with their sister site in Willington, as well as with local Cubs, Scouts and Brownies groups making a really fantastic resource for the community.
The newly revitalized area will also be a great way for the children to start learning about the environment and the impact of climate change, with Siobhan Godden the Chair of Governors remarking that “The Curriculum Committee have heard about the exciting ways to use this space for outside learning and the training and investment opportunities available to enhance the curriculum”.
Natural flood management and water quality:
The trees and shrubs planted will help to reduce waterlogging in the Forest School area and neighbouring fields.
Public access and management:
The trees will become an integral part of the educational facilities in the Forest School area, giving the children the opportunity to access and learn about the natural environment both during development and once established. The Forest School area will also be shared with groups from the local community, including the Cubs, Brownies and Scouts.
The variety and mix of native species will encourage biodiversity and provide shelter for wide range wildlife in the neighbouring open fields and farm land.
Contribution to Net Zero:
The newly planted trees will contribute to the Borough’s target to become carbon neutral by 2030, and succeed in its aim of empowering residents, community groups, schools and businesses in the Borough to help them mitigate climate change.
Engagement, health and wellbeing:
KS2 pupils at Sheerhatch Primary helped with the planting of the project and will get the satisfaction of watching their achievements grow. The planting was also a way for the board of governors to engage with the pupils and management of the school in a practical, hands-on way. It will also enable the two school sites to come together in a way that would have previously proved difficult in an indoor setting, particularly in the pandemic.