A field to a forest

Sometimes transforming an area into a wildlife-friendly spot can be a daunting prospect but it doesn’t take much to encourage wildlife to move in. Read about how Bedford Primary in Bootle have been improving their site over the last year.

After joining the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Forest School Project at the start of the year, Bedford Primary School in Bootle have been making a conscious effort to improve their school grounds, with the aim of creating an outdoor learning area that will be relaxing, inspiring to pupils and attractive to wildlife.

The school were fortunate enough to have a large playing field and a thin area of hawthorn trees, willow and lots of thick, spikey bramble bushes to separate the field from the main road, but it was an otherwise open, blank canvas. With a few simple but effective changes to the site it has been completely transformed over the year with lots of wildlife moving in. Since January, the children have had encounters with moths, bumblebees, ants, ladybirds, caterpillars, dunnocks and sparrowhawks to name just a selection of the diverse creatures who have visited us at Forest School.

So here’s a rundown of what they’ve done so far to turn their playing field into a beautiful, wild area for learning.

Outdoor seating circle

forest school seating circle bedford

Firstly, thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the school had an outdoor seating circle fitted by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s fantastic school grounds team, complete with a parachute and fire pit. There is a parachute that can be easily put up to provide shelter from rain or strong sunlight, and the fire pit offers a safe space to practise and learn about fire-lighting, so that other parts of the area won’t be damaged with scorch marks on the ground or burnt vegetation.

The seating circle is so much more than somewhere to sit around a fire though; it is a resource that widens the children’s learning. The seating circle’s wooden posts as the perfect substitute for mature trees, something the site currently lacks. Tie a tarp up between the posts and you have a shelter, or wrap wool or twine between two posts and you can make your own spiders webs. They also make a very good barley when you’re playing chasing games.

On top of this, with woodchip down in the middle of the seating circle, lots of fungi have started to grow. Some days the mushrooms look like a miniature forest, much to the children’s delight.

Created a minibeast area

ant nest

Teachers and pupils dedicated an area for minibeasts to thrive, bringing in logs and stones, so that classes can come down and watch insects without trampling on them. Within a couple of weeks, the logs were crawling with ants and woodlice, and the children spent a long time watching the ants carrying their eggs down into chambers. Every session there are always a few children who like to go and check on the minibeast area and see if anyone new has moved in.

Planted trees

tree planting forest school

In March, Mersey Forest joined the forest school children to plant young saplings and created a tree nursery. Both children and staff really enjoyed this activity and there is now a wide variety of new species growing on the site, including oak, yew, elder, scots pine, beech and silver birch. The children have been making an effort to water the trees in dry weather, and have been learning how to identify the different species. The trees have attracted other wildlife too. Butterflies have laid eggs underneath some of the trees’ leaves while a couple of the oaks that were planted have developed woody brown, circular galls – a sign that oak marble gall wasps have laid their eggs in the trees’ buds.

Leaving the grass to grow long

alan and children at forest school

Normally, the school field is mown by a gardener every two weeks. However, since early spring, the gardener has been asked to leave the grass around the trees to grow, as well as a few other patches around the site. While these patches have been a great addition to games like hide and seek, the long grass is now also a refuge for wildlife, full of beetles, moths, bees and wildflowers. The children have been intrigued by the change in the grasses and plants as they grow taller. In fact, my favourite memory of working with the group was spending a summers afternoon laughing our heads off as adults and children alike all tried to master whistling with a blade of grass.

The school have done an amazing job improving the space and it’s been lovely supporting them along their journey. The changes have not only benefited wildlife in their local area but have opened up new opportunities for the children to learn outside of the four walls of a normal classroom. In January our Forest School Project will be moving on to work with new schools and inspire them to embrace outdoor play and learning, but we are excited to see how Bedford continues to develop their school grounds.

Do you have an outdoor space you want to make wildlife friendly? We have lots of ideas on for actions you can take to help wildlife in your garden, your school or even your place of work. Visit www.lancswt.org.uk/actions for inspiration.

To find out more about our Forest School Project, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, visit www.lancswt.org.uk/forest-school.

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