‘Forest School’ Style Nature Workshops Planned For Shaftesbury Schoolchildren

Three parents, who are passionate about wildlife and the environment, hope to launch an outdoor learning experience for Shaftesbury-area youngsters.

Alfred’s Keri Jones learned more about the project.

Rosie Langley came up with the idea of ‘Nature Cadet’ activities for children aged from 3 to 8 years. She has always encouraged her own children to learn about and explore nature but couldn’t find any suitable sessions near Shaftesbury. “When you go to places run by the Forestry Commission or the Wildlife Trust, they do workshops within the holidays, but we don’t have anything like that at the moment,” she said.

When Rosie discovered the potential for project funding from Shaftesbury Town Council’s ‘Wild About Shaftesbury’ competition, she knew it was time to act. “It’s been an idea that I’ve had for a while. When I saw a poster it just felt like fate. I thought this was now the time to try and put this idea out there,” she said.

Rosie Langley

We have some of England’s most beautiful countryside within a few minutes’ walk from the centre of Shaftesbury, yet few young families immerse themselves in the landscape. “Although we live in a fantastically beautiful area, and children do have access to amazing countryside locally, sometimes we don’t take advantage of that,” said Rosie, adding, “There’s been some research done recently for the National Trust that shows that children watch on average two-and-a-half hours of television a day, every day of the year. It’s very easy to get home from school and to plonk the children in front of the TV. I think it’s a modern habit.”

There’s a term for the effect of staying indoors. “We, as a nation, have something called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, which means that we should spend more time outside. They reckon that 20 minutes a day is what we need in order to help with our physical and our mental health.”

Rosie recalls her childhood when she enjoyed exploring nature. “I spent a lot of time outdoors, I literally used to jump over the garden wall and be in a Wildlife Trust-owned valley. We used to spend all our time up trees, building dens and looking at the wildlife,” she said.

Rosie has always been passionate about the environment. “My background is in PR, marketing and events coordination and I used to work in rural sustainability,” she said. She also writes the sustainable parenting blog, GreenFingeredMum.co.uk, and she tries to pass on what she learns to her two children, who are aged 5 and 7.

Recently she has formed a friendship with Kim Masters, writer of the Fontmell Magna-based BeyondTheGradenfence.com. “She’s a stay at home mum, who is a blogger as well. And I thought it might be fun to have a friend,” laughed Rosie.

Kim has been writing about her family’s experiences as they explore Dorset’s natural and historic sites. “Kim has been ‘rewilding her children’ for the last couple of years,” said Rosie. She has got loads of local knowledge and enthusiasm.”

Charlotte Shelley, Rosie’s sister, is the third member of the group. “My sister is an early years teacher. I think we’re a pretty good team,’ added Rosie.

The project is straightforward. The group want to host half-term activities where children learn about wildlife and the environment. “Nature Cadets is a holiday-run workshop. We’re hoping initially to do just one per school holiday. It’s going to be a half day where people can come with their children. You will be able to go hunting for beasts, look at wildflowers or identify trees. Maybe there will be a bit of foraging, and then the group will do some craft, which would involve the natural things that we’ve looked at. The story at the end will have an underlying environmental message,” said Rosie.

The Nature Cadets team say that the average cost of a forest school is £20 per child and that could mean lower income or larger families would be excluded. This group hope to run the events for a £5 fee, which would include a drink and a biscuit.

If the women don’t receive Council cash from this competition, Rosie says that the group has enough drive to do something. “I think it would be dependent on some sort of funding, but we would look at other ways in which we could possibly work with the Council to get it going without the money, if we needed to.”

If all goes to plan the first event could take place this autumn. “I wanted to get it going for the October half term. In my experience, you normally need at least a month’s worth of promotion to get interest in an event and to make sure that your planning is perfect,” she said.

Rosie has already started visiting potential Nature Cadets venues. “I’ve looked at the Gold Hill Museum because they have a really beautiful garden room that you can just open the doors and you are into their garden. As long as they’re happy with us picking leaves off their plants to take a look at them or digging for worms! The Abbey is lovely. The youth club has got a garden. We also have village halls on the outskirts and in some of the smaller villages that have said they would be interested. Fontmell Magna, where Kim lives, have said that they would be happy for us to run workshops.”

Rosie’s enthusiasm for the project is palpable. She says it is just the sort of activity programme that she has been seeking. “I’m always looking for things that I can do with my children during the school holidays. I’ve travelled more than an hour away from Shaftesbury before to take part in a similar forest school,” she said.

The Council has not yet revealed its timeline for making a decision on the competition. Later this week, we’ll meet the other two ‘Wild About Shaftesbury’ applicants – an Enmore Green resident who wants to increase secure nesting sites for swifts and Alfred visits the site of a proposed ‘peace garden’ in St James.