Engagement with nature

Nadia von Benzon, a Lecturer in Human Geography at Lancaster University has contributed a blog to the Tree Charter website.  In this, she discusses her research into children’s engagement with nature, particularly the experiences of disabled children, and the use of nature for children’s health and wellbeing.  The post begins:

We are by now familiar with the idea that children’s opportunities for independent exploration of outdoor spaces appear to be in decline.  Numerous studies have illustrated that millennials, and now their children, have fewer opportunities for free play in ‘wild’ spaces than previous generations.  This decline is understood to reflect a variety of socio-cultural and environmental changes such as more competition for children’s time – whether that be from electronic devices, commercialised play opportunities or structured extra-curricular activities, greater perception of risk, and greater difficulty in accessing these ‘wild’ spaces – whether through urbanisation or privatization.

There is some suggestion in the research, that disabled children may have an even more detached relationship with outdoor green space than their non-disabled peers, and this research typically considers the difficulties families may have getting out and about with disabled children.  Specific difficulties may include a lack of disposable income to spend on leisure activities (on average families including disabled children have below average income) and a lack of free time, as much time can be taken attending to the basic needs of feeding, sanitation and medication or therapy for children with complex needs.  These difficulties are often considered insurmountable when the potential destination is unlikely to be equipped with necessary facilities like accessible changing spaces and even surfaces.

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Dementia Wellbeing

Rachel and Sue with their woven willow butterfly and dragonfly; Jeannette decided hers was a long-eared bat!

Through 2017 we have worked with the Bristol Dementia Wellbeing Service to deliver a programme of wellbeing activities for people with dementia and their partners based at Conham River Park and Kingsweston House. This follows on from a successful and evaluated pilot in 2016 (published in the journal Working with Older People).

This is another successful application of the Trust’s ‘woodland wellbeing’ approach which has seen us work with and benefit groups across Avon over the last 7 years.

Executive Director: Jon Clark said:

‘It is particularly pleasing to be working with the Bristol Dementia Wellbeing Service as this represents a commitment by the NHS to funding effective wellbeing activities in the natural (woodland) environment. This successful project owes much to the vision of the  Wellbeing Service (Devon Partnership NHS Trust and the Alzheimer’s Society), as well as the skills of Nicola Ramsden and Rachel Tomlinson, in tailoring activities to need.’

Enabling a wide range of people to benefit from local woodlands is central to the Trust’s ethos and as well as the above, we run activities for adults with learning disabilities; people with mental health needs; and young people with special or behavioural needs. This work is supported by a range of grant funders. To find out more about our woodland wellbeing work, please email: jonclark@forestofavontrust.org

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A new Forest Education Network teaching resource

The Forest Education Network is producing a Primary Forest & Woodland Teaching Resource pack.  FEN says that if you are looking for lesson ideas and activities you can deliver in a forest or woodland environment, then its resource packs will help inspire you.  FEN says that the pack will be equally useful for those new to using woods and forests as a place for learning and those with more experience who wish to try something new.

The pack aims to help you plan curriculum linked activities from a few minutes long to a one-day visit to the woods. Some ideas will help children to adjust to the new, and perhaps unfamiliar, environment. Others support sustained learning in this natural classroom. Overall, this pack offers a range of activities to enable teachers and pupils share a memorable few hours of learning and fun with the trees as your teachers.  Packs will be available later this autumn, but can be pre-ordered.  Find out more about the pack here.

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Trees not tarmac in RIS2

Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Advisor for the Woodland Trust, writes about the alliance of 17 environmental groups proposing a fresh approach to the Government’s second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2), suggesting a focus on improving existing roads and motorways rather than building new ones.

The reportRising to the challenge: a shared green vision for RIS2, has been co-ordinated by Campaign for Better Transport and calls for funding to be prioritised for a ‘green retrofit’ of the current road network ahead of the provision of new road capacity.  The Woodland Trust has contributed to the ‘safeguarding the environment’ section of the report, and Barnes says that the Trust is aware of 45 ancient woods directly threatened by road development across the UK.  He writes:

Following the publication of its first Road Investment Strategy, Highways England hired an external consultancy to create a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) to guide its future infrastructure development.  One of the key statements in this plan is to achieve “no net loss” and in time a “net gain” of biodiversity.  It is impossible to achieve net gain or even no net loss of biodiversity when ancient woodland is destroyed though, it is irreplaceable.  We need to see evidence of BAP delivery to appraise the progress of Highways England in more sensitive environmental mitigation, yet we have seen no evidence that this monitoring is even taking place as their reports are not being published.  Road building doesn’t have to be at the detriment of the natural environment; we have seen some evidence of forward thinking such as the Hindhead tunnel, this is the standard to which all other schemes should aspire.

Some of the examples of road infrastructure impacting ancient woods include:

  • A27 Arundel Bypass, Sussex – open for consultation until October, all three proposed bypass options will see destruction of ancient woodland.
  • Lower Thames Crossing, Kent/Essex – The preferred route of a second crossing will see impacts to two areas of woodland south of the Thames in Kent. Claylane Wood, which is ancient and another, Shorne Wood, which is SSSI-designated and partially ancient, records show it is home to, amongst other species, the ruddy darter dragonfly, marsh tit and hawfinch.
  • A21 dualling, Kent – nine hectares of ancient woodland was destroyed to dual a section of the road. Highways England claim it as a positive example of ‘translocation’ of ancient woodland soil, a measure for which there is no evidence of success, compounded by carrying it out at completely the wrong time of year contrary to promises at the public inquiry.
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California’s Forests Continue To Die

California’s record drought is officially over, but trees are still dying across the state because they were so badly weakened by years without water.  Click here to listen to (and read) a discussion on US public radio about these problems.

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Do you know your fungi?

The Woodland Trust has published a summary of the 9 most common UK fungi.  It begins:

Fungi are a huge and fascinating kingdom with over 15000 species in the UK.  They live on land, in the water, in the air, and even in and on plants and animals.  They vary widely in size and form, from the microscopically small to the largest organisms on Earth (at several square miles large).  Mushrooms (or toadstools) is a term given to the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bodies that certain fungi produce.  Here are nine common mushrooms that you may come across.

It then warns:

Please be aware that fungi can be deadly poisonous – don’t use this blog to identify them for culinary use.

For greater reassurance you might think Wild Food UK would be good, but even this says:

“If you are identifying mushrooms please use multiple sources of identification and never eat anything unless you are 100% sure what it is.  We will not be held responsible for the use of the information in this website.”

Which reminds us of the wise Swedish saying:

There are old mushroom eaters, bold mushroom eaters, but never old, bold mushroom eaters.

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Report on the effectiveness of Wildlife Corridors

The idea of a wildlife corridor to aid conservation (or at least slow extinctions)  is not new, but how effective are they?   The New York Times recently carried a report on a new paper [*] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which scientists have tried to quantify how a wildlife corridor strategy might be used to slow extinction rates in two biodiversity hot spots, the Atlantic Forest of Brazil and the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania.

Clinton Jenkins, an ecologist at the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil and a co-author of the study, said:

“We’ve known for a while that fragmentation elevates extinction rates and that these corridors can help, but we wanted to take that data and figure out what we’d actually gain by putting these forests back together.”

The Times has more detail on this story.


* Targeted habitat restoration can reduce extinction rates in fragmented forests.

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Larch disease at Castell Coch

Monday’s Times reported that Welsh environmental authorities have ordered 4,000 trees that are infected with larch disease to be felled around Castell Coch near Cardiff.

Phytophthora ramorum (larch tree disease) is a fungus-like pathogen that causes extensive damage and kills a wide range of trees and other plants.  Gareth Roberts, Local Area Manager from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said,

“We know that Forest Fawr is well loved by the community and we want to reassure people that we will do everything we can to minimise any disruption from these works.  Although it is some time off, we are already planning the harvesting in two phases, so we can always keep areas of the forest open for people to use, and so we can minimise the impact on protected species and the local wildlife.  It is upsetting that we have to remove the trees, but we know the forest will still be a wonderful place for people to visit in the future.  We will continue to work with local businesses and interest groups to keep them up to date as our plans progress, and during the harvesting work.”

Currently, there are no plans for a replanting programme as Natural Resources Wales [NRW] said that the work would encourage native species to regenerate:

“After the harvesting has taken place, NRW will encourage native species such as beech, oak, birch, wild cherry, rowan and hazel in the forest to naturally regenerate. NRW will monitor the regeneration in the forest over the following years before considering if any replanting is required.”

If this doesn’t produce the required species or density of trees, NRW says it will look at restocking the site.  Anna McMorrin, the Cardiff North MP, is leading a petition on Change.org demanding that the trees be replaced.

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An open invitation to regain a sense of awe

A new book from photographer Robert Llewellyn and scientist Joan Maloof encourages readers to study the forest, and not just look at it.  The Mother Nature Network has a review of the book by Angela Nelson.  She begins:

“You might think that after 50 years of photographing plants and trees, photographer Robert Llewellyn has seen it all in the great outdoors.  But when he talks about nature and spending time in the forest for his latest book, he does so with a youthful exuberance and a sense of awe.  … That sense of awe carries through in his newest work, “The Living Forest: A Visual Journey into the Heart of the Woods,” for which Llewellyn shot the photos.

The accompanying text was written by Joan Maloof, a scientist and founder of the Old-Growth Forest Network.  The essays and images aim to place the reader in the center of the woods, encouraging them to get immersed in the living ecosystems both large and small all around.”

There are some stunning pictures.

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Young People Getting to Know Local Woodlands

We are working with 10 secondary schools across the area and taking  young people with a range of physical and learning needs to visit a local woodland to learn about the woodland environment and acquire new skills. Funded by the Ernest Cook Trust activities have included improving paths for visitors, trying woodland crafts and perhaps best of all, toasting marshmallows.

This work (thanks to the Ernest Cook Trust) is part of our wider suite of ‘Woodland Wellbeing’ projects which are bringing the considerable benefits of woodland activities to a growing range of people in the Bristol area. To find out more about what we do, please email Nicola Ramsden at: wellbeing@forestofavontrust.org

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