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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How can more children get closer to nature?

posted on November 14, 2018

Three of England’s leading environmental education charities have joined forces to explore how more children could be better connected with nature. Our interest is in outdoor education in wooded areas and forests, particularly Forest School practice, and we welcome a wide range of views from all outdoor educators and woodland owners.

Survey partners Sylva Foundation, Forest School Association, and The Ernest Cook Trust are running this survey as part of the Forest Schools for All project funded by The Ernest Cook Trust. The project is focussed on delivery in England, while for this survey the researchers are interested in receiving responses from the whole of the UK. This will allow comparison between countries, and provide valuable data for use by others in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Bringing Children Closer to Nature national survey

Bringing Children Closer to Nature national survey

Enabling children to be closer to nature, especially by learning and exploring in wooded areas and forests, was recognised as a key action in the government’s 25-year Environment Plan, published earlier this year. Yet despite the well-proven benefits of children spending regular time outdoors—including health and wellbeing, attitudes to learning, and environmental awareness—there is poor understanding about the current level of outdoor activities for young people across England, particularly in wooded areas and forests.

The Bringing Children Closer to Nature survey aims to explore barriers and opportunities to activities in wooded areas and forests, including the practice of Forest School, and it will quantify any issues preventing development and growth. Its three main aims are to:

  1. acquire basic information, including the number and distribution of schools and other organisations who do forest education activities including Forest School, and the levels of training and skills among practitioners;
  2. understand more about barriers and opportunities to establishing and sustaining forest education, including Forest School, among host organisations (e.g. schools, early years nurseries) and practitioners, and explore how these could be overcome;
  3. explore potential interest among woodland owners in providing greater access to woodland sites to support forest education, including Forest School.

This national survey forms part of the Forest Schools for All project, a partnership between Sylva Foundation, The Ernest Cook Trust (funder) and The Forest School Association

Chief Executive of Sylva Foundation, Dr Gabriel Hemery, said:

“Efforts to enable, increase, and sustain activities for young people in our woodlands and other outdoor areas across England have been held back by a poor evidence base. This important survey will provide a powerful voice for those with an interest and expertise in bringing children closer to nature. The survey outcomes will help inform delivery, funding opportunities, and policy development and will be freely available.”

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

“It’s been invaluable to work alongside experienced professionals at Sylva Foundation and Forest School Association to produce such a targeted research survey. The outcomes will influence decisions on how we work at The Ernest Cook Trust in broadening our reach to inspire young people to learn from the land.

The survey was launched in November 2018 and will remain open until the end of the year. Research outcomes will summarised in a freely-accessible report in early 2019. Those people interested in taking the survey can read more and follow a link to it here:

click here to take part in the British Woodlands 2012 survey

click here to take part in the survey

Download the press release


Notes for Editors


For media enquiries and to arrange interviews please contact Jen Hurst, Head of Forest Education, Sylva Foundation. or 01865 408018


Images are available to download (reproduction free). Please contact us for further information. All images © Sylva Foundation.

About the partners:

Sylva Foundation is an environmental charity helping trees and people grow together. From its base at the Sylva Wood Centre in Oxfordshire, it works across the UK supporting sustainable forest management with thousands of woodland owners. It works widely in partnership with other organisations in delivering environmental and educational projects, under the themes of science, education, forestry, and wood.

The Ernest Cook Trust, 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. ECT actively encourages children and young people to learn from the land through education programmes (including Forest School training) on its own estates, through partnerships with other organisations, and through its grant-giving programme. Each year its Trustees distribute around £2m in dedicated grants to a range of education initiatives.

The Forest School Association is the National professional body for Forest School, running the recognised providers and trainers’ scheme to ensure high quality Forest School. It has more than 2,000 members.

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Knife whittling workshop for educators

posted on July 8, 2016

We are pleased to offer a half-day workshop designed for Forest School Leaders and any educators interested to learn new skills with wood. It will be run by Simon Clements, Wood Carver based at the Sylva Wood Centre, supported by the Sylva Foundation.

knife whittling workshop

knife whittling workshop

During this workshop you will:

  • Learn to make your own whittling knife with a wooden handle (blades provided)
  • Learn how to care for knives including sharpening

About the tutor:

Simon Clements is a Wood Carver based at the Sylva Wood Centre, and is keen support Forest School Leaders in developing their skills with wood. He trained as a potter and came to carving via boat building and has a background in education.


The Sylva Wood Centre, Long Wittenham, OX14 4QT (see map)


The course will be run on:

  • Thursday 6th October 4pm  – 7pm


£30.00 per person

This cost includes all materials, tuition and tea/coffee.

Please bring:

  • Your own penknife or whittling knife.


Book your place online via Charity Checkout



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myForest at Forest School Association national conference

posted on October 2, 2014

We had an extremely enthusiastic response to the launch of myForest for Educators from many of the 200 Forest School Leaders present at the Forest School Association conference 26-28th September at Danbury Outdoor Centre, Essex.


myForest for Educators training day

myForest for Educators training day

Our Education Manager Jen Hurst, and Oxfordshire Forest School Service Forest School trainer Sarah Lawfull, presented myForest to 20 Forest School trainers at their national network meeting and ran practical myForest workshops for Forest School Leaders from across the country. Workshop participants produced inventories and management plans for their forest school sites and were impressed by the accessibility of the myForest tools. Many Forest School Leaders expressed how valuable myForest would be to them:


“myForest will not only be useful for managing our forest school site but it will also show the organisations that we work with that we are serious about woodland management. It is so great to have an organisation like Sylva behind us with training, advice and links into forestry.”

Forest School Trainer and Leader, London.


An unexpected and exciting outcome from the weekend was realising the potential to take myForest into the classroom as an educational tool. One practitioner commented:

“I am not going to train the teachers how to use myForest … I will train the young people to use it so they can do their own woodland management plans!”

Countryside Ranger, Scotland.


Several Educators identified the many curriculum links they could make using myForest with young people at primary and secondary levels such as Geography (mapping), Maths (inventory), English (reporting), Science (tree identification and ecological impact assessment), and ICT. Both Sylva and the Forest School Association believe that empowering young people to manage their forest school sites will give them a deeper connection to their sites, provide a real life decision making task as well as educating them in woodland management, ecology and forestry.

The feedback gained from Forest School Leaders at the conference will be crucial in shaping the new version of myForest for Educators which we plan to launch in March 2015. In partnership with the Forest School Association we will support Forest School trainers across the country with myForest so that hundreds of Forest School Leaders will learn to use it. In the meantime if any Forest Leaders or Educators would like to use myForest and provide further feedback we would value your input – contact . Development and dissemination of myForest for Educators has been made possible by the Patsy Wood Trust.

Thanks go to the Forest School Association for the organisation of a successful conference and Sylva looks forward to continuing our partnership with them over the coming year.

Read more about Sylva’s education work


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myForest for Educators launched

posted on September 29, 2014
FS Leaders and myForest for Educators

FS Leaders and myForest for Educators

As a direct outcome of our partnership with the FSA (see recent news) we have launched the myForest for Educators at the FSA National Conference in Essex.

On September 27th our Education Manager Jen Hurst ran myForest woodland management workshops for Forest School Leaders. Bringing myForest to the UK’s Forest School community will build a much-needed bridge between the worlds of forestry and education and go a long way to reviving Britain’s wood culture by reaching thousands of young people and educators.

For more information on Forest Schools visit Forest School Association.

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Raising funds for Forest School via Love Trees Love Wood

posted on September 17, 2014

Our joint fundraising campaign with the Forest School Association, via the crowdfunding portal Indiegogo, ended recently. We are pleased to report that the total raised was £1250.00. Although this sum falls short of our fundraising target on Indiegogo we are continuing to fundraise via the Big Give

Support from donors has been crucial in launching the UK’s first ever national campaign to increase the number of young people participating in Forest Schools. The campaign has enabled two charities, the Sylva Foundation and the Forest School Association, to produce an awareness-raising film about the value and urgent need for Forest Schools in the UK. The funds raised on Indiegogo have covered the cost of producing the film and promoting it through our own websites, networks and social media. So thanks to all of you who helped us to get the campaign off the ground!

The good news is that this is not the end of the campaign but just the start. The Sylva Foundation and Forest School Association (FSA) will continue to fundraise together for Forest Schools. Funds raised through the Big Give will be used to support Forest Schools most in need, as described in the original Indiegogo campaign. The campaign film is also a way for us to raise the national profile of Forest Schools and provide benefits to both young people and our forests.

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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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