Bringing Children Closer to Nature

posted on July 8, 2019

In a report published today, educators and woodland owners from across the UK provide a much-needed snapshot of how they are bringing children closer to nature through Forest School practice and outdoor learning. This report reveals how practitioners overcome significant barriers to bringing children closer to nature and how this can be sustained.

Forest Schools for All report

Forest Schools for All report – visit the webpage

The report is the result of an online survey undertaken in late 2018 by adults who work with children outdoors, particularly Forest School practitioners. A total of 1,171 people took part, mostly educators (1,080), alongside private woodland owners (94) with an interest in bringing children closer to nature.

The most common barriers to sustaining Forest School described by educators were funding, time, and access to woodland sites. Contributions from parents were important for funding in many schools, except among deprived schools, indicating that greater targeted support is required to ensure all children are brought closer to nature. Challenges of the school timetable and curriculum can be overcome when the Head Teacher and senior leadership understand and make Forest School a priority. For sites, the majority of schools in the survey used their own school grounds for Forest School, therefore reducing barriers arising from location and cost. Woodland owners in this survey were found to play a critical role in providing free access to woodland for educators not based in schools.

FSFA report infographic

FSFA report infographic

The report authors recommend seven key outcomes as a result of their findings.

  1. Schools with successful Forest School and/or outdoor learning should be advocates and share experience with schools that do not have Forest School and outdoor learning programmes.
  2. Government should consider the significant societal and financial benefits arising from embedding the provision of outdoor learning in the curriculum.
  3. The outdoor learning sector should be proactive in advancing further the school curriculum by working closely with government.
  4. The forestry and arboricultural sector should explore how best to support educators in providing tree and site management advice.
  5. New grant schemes should be designed and tested that would help overcome barriers to outdoor learning, and support sought from grant providers.
  6. A new online platform could be designed to support outdoor learning among practitioners and woodland owners, and funding sought for its delivery.
  7. Further research commissioned to increase understanding of the needs of deprived schools, and how barriers may be overcome.

Jen Hurst, Head of Forest Education, Sylva Foundation said:

“We are so pleased to have had such an overwhelmingly positive response to the survey. Sylva Foundation and its partners are proud to have given hundreds of educators and woodland owners across the country a voice at national level. We believe that the results of the survey will carry significant weight and we urge everyone who wants to bring all children closer to nature to read this report and support its recommendations.”

Victoria Edwards, Chief Executive, The Ernest Cook Trust, said:

“This report is really helpful in directing how we can broaden our reach at The Ernest Cook Trust. We are already using it to fine tune our work in supporting an environmentally engaged society. We are grateful to Sylva for identifying some key barriers to outdoor learning and look forward to piloting new ways of working identified by the report.”

The survey was part of a the Forest School for All project led by Sylva Foundation, an environmental charity, with funding and support provided by The Ernest Cook Trust.

The full survey report and further information about the Forest Schools for All project can be found at:


Notes for Editors

For more information and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Jen Hurst, Head of Forest Education, Sylva Foundation: or 01865408018
See also:

The Forest Schools for All project is a bold education initiative led by Sylva Foundation, in partnership with the Forest School Association, and The Ernest Cook Trust, which is also the main funder of the project. The three leading environmental education organisations have come together with the ultimate aim of increasing and sustaining access to Forest Schools for all children.

Sylva Foundation is an environmental charity working to help trees and people grow together. Founded in 2009, the charity works with thousands of woodland owners managing in excess of 80,000 hectares across Britain, and has projects with many government agencies, major NGOs, and businesses. The Forest Schools for All project is among a number of education initiatives led by the charity, including Timber! which offers free resources on trees and wood, and myForest for Education which helps educators manage their sites to ensure the best outcomes for children and nature.

The Ernest Cook Trust (ECT), based in Fairford, Gloucestershire, is one of the UK’s leading educational charities, inspiring young people to achieve better educational and life outcomes by learning from the land and is rooted in the conservation and management of the countryside. It owns and manages more than 8,900 hectares of landed estates across five English counties. The Ernest Cook Trust actively encourages children and young people to learn from the land through education initiatives (including Forest School) on its own estates, through partnerships with other organisations, and through its dedicated grant-giving programme. Each year its Trustees distribute around £2m to a range of education initiatives.

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Tackling nature-deficit disorder in Britain’s children

posted on July 4, 2014


Two charities promoting environmental education have formed a partnership to tackle ‘nature-deficit disorder’ in Britain’s children.

Young people today often are disconnected from the natural world – a condition coined by American author Richard Louv[1] as ‘nature-deficit disorder’ – leading to multiple issues affecting physical and mental wellbeing, fear of the outdoors, and fundamentally a lack of a meaningful relationship with the environment.

The Forest School Association and the Sylva Foundation have launched a fundraising campaign: Love Trees Love Wood. They aim to raise £30,000 via the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to support existing Forest Schools and to establish more sites across the country, especially in areas of deprivation and in inner cities. Currently there is no funding specifically for Forest Schools in the UK. School budgets are ever tighter. Forest Schools are not government-funded. The crowdsourcing campaign is the only one of its kind in the UK and will generate the only fund set up specifically to support Forest Schools.

Sylva Foundation CEO Dr Gabriel Hemery said

“the Forest School movement is the single most powerful vehicle for environmental education in Britain today.” He continued “We aim to increase the number of Forest Schools in areas of the country where there are few or no Forest Schools, and also to support Forest School leaders in caring for their woodland sites.”

Without Forest Schools our children face a crisis. A recent NHS study revealed that one-in-five children are obese by the time they leave primary school[2]. The Nuffield Foundation (2013) reported that the proportion of young people reporting frequent feelings of depression or anxiety has increased in recent years – doubling between the mid 1980s and the mid 2000s. In 2009 Natural England carried out an extensive study into how children’s contact with the natural world and play patterns have changed:

  • Children spend less time playing in natural places, such as woodlands, countryside and heaths, than they did in previous generations.
  • Less than 10% play in such places compared to 40% of adults when they were young.
  • Children today would like more freedom to play outside (81%).
  • Nearly half of the children say they are not allowed to play outside unsupervised and nearly a quarter are worried to be out alone.

Jon Cree, Chair of the Forest School Association, said

“there is increasing evidence of how Forest School makes an effective learning programme, and improves children’s confidence and their ability to problem solve. Through the Love Trees Love Wood campaign we aim to increase Forest School provision around the country, by providing sites with equipment such as waterproofs, wellies and tools, and provide more training for educators, parents or carers.”

Forest School child:

“I have learned all I ever needed here, from how to make stuff to how important trees and wood are for my life and health.”

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[1] Louv, R. (2010). Last child in the woods. Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1848870833


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