Forest School is an inspirational programme that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment. It addresses the stresses in society that result from ever-decreasing contact with the natural world.

The Forest School movement started off in Britain in the mid-1990s and is based on Scandinavian practice where it is mainstream in schools. Children’s contact with nature is considered to be of the greatest importance to their healthy development, both psychologically and physically, and is backed up by a huge body of research.

Key features include:

  • The use of woodland or other outdoor settings
  • A high ratio of adults (including trained practitioners) to pupils
  • Learning through play and discovery that can be linked to National Curriculum and Foundation Stage objectives
  • Regular time spent in the same outside space over a significant period of time

This Trust has been promoting Forest School since 2011.
We have undertaken initiatives in three particular areas:

1. The Forest School Association (FSA)

We part-funded the creation of The Forest School Association (FSA), a charity which forms the National Governing Body for Forest School in the UK. Forest School is a movement which is developing rapidly in the UK – it is estimated that there are around 9,000 trained practitioners to date! However, it is a grass root movement which has gone somewhat “feral” with a disparate range of training providers, varying curricula and different diploma awarding bodies. There was therefore a pressing need to create the FSA in order to promote and maintain quality, recognised standards and to develop and maintain professional status for Forest School practitioners. FSA is the established representative of the Forest School community coordinating and supporting research into its impact and helping to spread the movement at the national level.

2. Forest School promotional film

We produced a short documentary film for a London Primary school to demonstrate the value of the programme to its teachers and parents. The film has had wide circulation to other schools, health and community workers in order to spread the word.

The film was made by a broadcast television team - supporters of ours and at minimal cost. The school in question is Eastwood Community Centre and Nursery School in Roehampton (southwest London) which serves the second largest housing estate in Europe – the Alton Estate. Eastwood is a Forest School and some children arrive there having never been into a park, scared even of getting dirty or walking on leaves! The enthusiasm that their regular outings to a nearby woodland park generates is touching to witness! The key is frequent regular visits to the same area as familiarity deepens involvement and interest: having favourite trees to climb, awaiting the arrival of tadpoles and knowing where to find them, experiencing the changes that occur with the different seasons.

3. Forest School Sites

The Trust is now focussing on helping develop Forest School sites within school grounds. Such schools must still have sufficient outdoors space albeit often on a limited scale. They have also to be schools which by definition have no access to suitable alternative sites within close reach and which lack the resources necessary for a minibus and the extra time and staffing requirements such school outings involve.

We have an ongoing programme of developing several substantial sites together with a leading landscape company which has donated labour, many of the materials and design inputs pro bono. Less extensive sites have also been created or improved in a number of other schools with more coming on stream all the while. The sites typically incorporate woodland trees and shrubs, fruit trees, a small pond, fire circle, mud kitchen, willows for craftwork, wood for building huts, large logs, bug houses and the rest! Children are taught to use sharp tools and fire responsibly, to discover ways of occupying themselves without resort to toys and screens. It’s a different world at Forest School and almost all children love it! Staff report on the calming effect of Forest School – it is most unusual for there to be any discipline problems on site. Furthermore, children who may struggle in the classroom often flourish in this different and less stressful environment with the knock-on effect of improving their confidence and self-esteem generally.


Our local partner is CHIRAG, a small but outstanding indigenous development organisation. We focus on the forestry component of their holistic programme: CHIRAG is also active in the fields of community health, education, agriculture and income generation initiatives. Since 1997 we have funded the reforestation of around 4,000 acres (1600 hectares) of degraded hillside, together with providing adult training and environmental programmes in schools. Success has depended on motivating and inculcating new skills and attitudes amongst the villagers, especially the women who are the main user group.

Villagers participate in all aspects of forest development from initial project planning through to planting out the trees and their ongoing management. All tree seedlings are produced in small home or village nurseries to supply the 12,000 or so we currently need for outplanting each year. In addition Chirag is experimenting with Direct Seed Sowing: that is the sowing of those species with larger seeds such as oak, chestnut & bauhinia, directly into the soil as opposed to planting out trees as saplings. This is proving highly successful and reduces the cost per surviving tree by approximately 65% - to around 7 rupees (8 pence sterling).

All benefits from the forest, such as wood collection and grass cutting, are kept within the community and any payments are made to locals rather than to outside contractors. Biogas technology, which creates gas from cow dung for cooking, has been introduced to provide an alternative to wood fuel and so reduce pressure on the forest. Likewise solar cookers and other fuel efficient stoves are being promoted.

Our project is situated in the Himalayas in north-central India, close to the border with Nepal. Work is at an average elevation of 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) in the lower reaches of this great mountain range. Forest resources in the region are essential to local livelihoods - in particular for fuelwood and the browse and forage needed for livestock on which their agriculture depends. Destruction of the forest is causing erosion, soil impoverishment and interference with natural water courses.

The increasing pace of human intervention and deforestation in the Himalayas is potentially devastating. It could lead to the gradual choking off of the life support systems on which local inhabitants depend and that of the many millions in the Ganges Plain below for whom forest survival in the hills is integral to the proper regulation of water flow and the containment of flash flooding.

The programme has covered over 200 villages to date. New villages have become involved which are situated in particularly challenging areas surrounded by steep arid hillsides. The first step towards restoring such areas to forest is to focus on revegetation and to establish ground cover by planting shrubs and grasses. Certain pioneer trees are also useful at this stage including the rugged Jacaranda tree, more generally planted as a garden or street side ornamental. Small check dams, contour pits and other measures help prevent water run-off and increase the moisture level in the soil. This prepares the site for the subsequent planting of the more useful and important trees that will form the core of the eventual forest.

There is an acute and growing water crisis in the Himalayas. Climate change with glacier retreat and extreme weather events are compounding the problems caused by increased demands from a rising population. Deforestation has undermined the capacity of the soil to retain water and release it gradually: this leads to erosion, soil compaction and flash flooding. Chirag is extending its work in ecosystem management and the protection of water courses with tree, shrub and grass planting. It has mapped all springs over a large area of its operations and has to date completed rejuvenation activities with over 200 of them through its participatory groundwater management programme with local villagers.

Great British
Elm Experiment

The Great British Elm Experiment is a project which sets out to challenge the view that “elms have had it!” The Holy Grail is to reintroduce native British elm trees to our countryside if surviving and naturally disease resistant trees can be identified. Alongside this objective experimentation is ongoing with new and hopefully resistant hybrid elms. We are partnering The Conservation Foundation in this drive to revive and maintain interest in the elm before it becomes a largely forgotten species.

Elm trees had iconic status in the British countryside and are immortalised in poetry and in the great landscape paintings of Constable and others. They were the principal hedgerow trees alongside oaks and ashes and had numerous practical uses: the Romans used elm to construct water pipes and elm has had an important role in the manufacture of furniture and even coffins! They had a unique place in the ecosystem.

Since the 1960s Dutch elm disease has ravaged the British elm population with around fifteen million trees lost: in addition countless other elms have been lost across the world. Hybrid resistant trees are being developed which hopefully open up a future for the species but the quest to save our native varieties has not yet been abandoned. A significant number of mature native trees have in fact survived the disease outbreak for reasons unknown, some of which trees could have innate genetic resistance. Experimentation is underway to establish whether this is indeed the case.

The project has propagated saplings from healthy British parent trees of sixty years and older that predate the current wave of Dutch Elm Disease. By planting out and monitoring these saplings it should in time be possible to establish whether there are disease resistant strains which could lead to their subsequent reintroduction on a wider scale. Over the last 15 years 3,000 of these saplings have been planted out with a survival rate of around 50%. Numerous schools, local community organisations and landowners are taking part in the experiment and have planted out their own elm saplings.

There has been considerable interest in The Great British Elm Experiment in the national media. We hope this will in time lead on to a wider programme to encourage ongoing scientific research into Dutch Elm Disease and to provide an international forum for elm enthusiasts. The increasing incidence of new tree diseases in other species in recent years – in particular the potentially devastating threat to our ash population from chalara (ash dieback) - has given ever greater importance to a full understanding and appreciation of the trees and woodlands we have left, how we can protect them and even expand them for future generations.

Our Trust is now supporting a new initiative – the online interactive Elm Map. Despite the huge loss of native elms there are still a surprising number of healthy survivors around in parks, gardens and the countryside. With the help of enthusiasts, the goal is to discover the current state of the elm population and support Dutch Elm Disease researchers. Elm sightings can be logged by uploading photographs of the tree with its location and as much other information as possible. Postings are moderated by a number of elm experts who will identify the species. Visit

A post note about identifying Elms. They tend to hybridise freely, making identification of individual species difficult. There are three recognised native elms - English elm (Ulmus procera), Wych elm (Ulmus glabra) and Smooth Leaved elm (Ulmus minor). Their leaves share common characteristics: they are double toothed and are asymmetrical at their base – see illustration below.