Number 8, 24 June 2020, 8-9.30pm

Topic: Caring for our Forest School sites – maintaining the wildness of COVID times

Summary and notes

Speakers: Jen Hurst & Elsa Field

Webinar Style: ‘Around the Hearth – Discussion & Sharing of practice

Total Number Registered: 95

Total Number attended: At 8pm – 43. Averaged 53, max 55. When splitting into break out rooms – 50. After break out rooms – 47.

Please see webinar recording for Jen & Elsa’s full Talk and answers to questions.

Music at start by Elsa Field you can find her at

  1. Welcome from Chairperson (Froo),
  2. Update from the FSA (Froo):

3. Intro to this webinars topic & Welcome to Jen & Elsa (Froo)

Jen introduced herself – is Head of Forest Education for Sylva see and has been the coordinator for the Forest Education Network, now the Forest Education Network England.

Elsa introduced herself –  PHd forest ecologist, plant health expert and specialising in leaf herbivores who has been an intern at SylvaJen started by giving the context for this webinar

During lockdown our sites may have flourished and be very ‘wild’

Video clip from Helen in Worcestershire – showing the development of a pathway through the bramble and species that have recolonised.

Photos from a school site that Jen works at – duck week taking over a pond, long grass, disappearing paths, resting heavily used areas, protecting new growth. Each aspect broken into Challenges, Opportunities and solutions.

‘When we move out, wildlife moves in’ Take time to observe the species and behaviours that are now present before decisions are made. Perhaps during the lockdown there has been the opportunity of time to update our management plans

4. Elsa introduced the ‘My Forest’ for education online tool on Sylva website –

5. Jen introduced some questions to be discussed within break out rooms:

  • What are the positive and negative impacts of lockdown on your site? & what are your feelings on this as a FS leader?
  • What are some of the upcoming challenges for your FS site?
  • How might you overcome the challenges? Share ideas in your groups. What have you or might you learn about yourself, your site and your FS practice?

Participants had 20 mins to discuss these 3 questions in small groups. Here is a Collation of their notes from discussions:

What are the positive and negative impacts of lockdown on your site? & what are your feelings on this as a FS leader?

  • One site been completely locked down and any future plans have to go through the Forestry Commission.  Rangers need more knowledge.
  • Second site on a school that was closed down 2 days after starting.  Other local schools have FS site.  All recently vandalised. How sad.
  • EY Setting site, not seen yet.  Now going to be used for Early Years learning with other staff.  Not seen by practitioner yet.
  • Having been furloughed, now trying to start a community site in a local park. Very overgrown.  Making tunnels through the undergrowth.  Lots of ladybirds.  Last week, a dead fox was found.  Should I leave it or not?  Yes.
  • One site on school premises, Head teacher managed to stop the area being strimmed, still waiting to see it.
  • Another site on an arboretum. Lots of thinning done.
  • Another site in a Country park, has been used by the community every week.  Wood has been moved; dens moved etc. Looking at a more wooded site now.
  • Deciduous, doesn’t always regenerate.
  • Site on MOD land, can do pretty much anything.  Has been used throughout by Critical Worker Children.
  • Since Y6 have returned and the teachers are now appreciating the outdoors and want to outside all the time.
  • Not everyone had returned to work post-covid, so not all seen their site.
  • Been resting their site which has led to an increase in species diversity. A path has been cleared
  • Works with a primary school on 3 sites with lots of management support from committee.  During lockdown sites have been used by the village leading to increased footfall.  Lots of evidence of older children
  • Freelance working across 3 sites – lockdown has raised awareness of tree diseases and consideration
  • Freelance trainer with own site – positive impact has been time to really study own site – identifying trees that have died and considering management activities.
  • Different species.
  • Spotted male and female muntjac
  • Liverpool – more litter. Gone up there most days. Possibly more than normal. Feel like loose connection with woods before start forest school. Hasn’t happened during lockdown. Birdsong. Bluebells got to flourish.
  • A lot drier. After all that rain.
  • So dry, consider whether fire is the right choice.
  • Myriam started a willow project
  • Duck and duckilngs on site!
  • Members of the public using the site as a place for exercise so needed to move to a different site, new wildlife to see, but still issues with public and teenagers leaving litter etc. So needed to use another site! Really exciting terrain which is new to the children – but now using areas with water leads to ++ mozis.
  • Growth on paths usually cleared by footfall have become over grown which is a big positive.
  • Frustration – waiting to do my 6 sessions as a trainee.
  • Considering getting the children to help do the woodland management plans and env impact plan (secondary) using MyForest. Exciting prospect. Very motivating and enabling for children to have a  say – ownership. Considering getting y6 to get involved.
  • Outdoor nursery, looked so different when we got back, gentle touch on return, and leaving some wild edges – nice to come back to.
  • Learning that children are so much better than I think they are at navigating brambles and nettles – I don’t need to hold/cut it back
  • Throw away the books! Get them all out – that’s what we’ve learned through lockdown
  • Site being used by people not normally there – dog poo bags in the trees. Needing to check site more before session.
  • Not seen sites, unsure but excited, got help from adult volunteers, Scotland behind England, unsure whether blended or just going back as normal.  Sites looked after by other people, ‘green team’, volunteers haven’t hear anything, site on the edge of a golf course, management plan is golf grounds people, but we do a mirror plan
  • Public sites have more footfall, poor state, looking for new sites.  Secondary kids can help out as course work.  Contact site owners/managers, wild life trust etc.  Mature site, cant currently access, cant picture how it may be
  • Public use – rubbish, fires, antisocial use?  Manchester wood – tidy visitors, put all beer bottles in a box and rubbish in a bin.  Real problem of wild fires and litter, banning disposable bbqs.  Learning opportunity for children to show devastation of fire and regeneration. 
  • Fire off ground, fire woks, but public might not know, antisocial behaviour – we can have a good impact, disrupt, teach good site use, our first users are now teens who know to tidy up
  • Lots more brambles and letting some of the site go wild
  • Using another public site as the site planned for is already being used by another FS due to pressure on sites as own site is in lockdown.  Unsure about landownership.
  • Teenagers starting fires on inappropriate sites – a chance for dialogue and talking to them about safer ways of doing it and even engaging in use of sites

What are some of the upcoming challenges for your FS site?

  • Concerns about vandalism.
  • Dead fox dumped
  • Xmas tree with lights still attached, picnic leftovers etc.
  • Tarps can’t be left behind, have to be put up and down all the time
  • Leave a Wheelie Bin on site and ask the public to use it for rubbish
  • We want to get the whole village involved.  Going to write an article in the Village Newsletter talking about respect. People are generous with time.
  • One member has surveyed the local people. 91 responses. Added to local facebook group.
  • Lot of tidying needed and clearing of nettles.
  • On a public park site – more people have ‘found’ the site used for FS = more antisocial behaviour, litter etc to deal with
  • Planning issues – meaning can’t thin trees currently
  • Tree pests – eg ash dieback
  • A challenge is going to be getting back into the site and not having usual group of Y6 children to support.
  • Challenge of engaging children who have left school to keep them looking after the site.
  • Challenge of managing tree diseases.
  • Getting to places for the brambles. Limes.
  • Litter. They’re doing the same as us, just not clearing up after themselves. Haven’t got that connection with the woodland.
  • Not to loose connection with woods – go up there more in the summer.
  • Possibility that the little ones might find it overwhelming if it’s different. Especially SEN. Suggestion to get a video to the families? “We have a fire circle… but now it looks like… etc.”
  • COVID and what to expect.
  • Hoping for permission for holiday clubs
  • Concern over permission to use the site

How might you overcome the challenges? Share ideas in your groups. What have you or might you learn about yourself, your site and your FS practice?

  • Children can get involved undertaking some of the work eg  clearing paths etc.
  • Could be an opportunity for building relationships with wider community and getting more people involved – eg litter picks through ‘friends of’ groups, may also be potential for fundraising/grants through these bodies using volunteer hours as ‘in kind’ match funding. Mutual benefits through linking FS with other groups using the site.
  • Opportunity to involve students in surveying the site and updating the management plan
  • Work slowly through jobs (school don’t want others on site currently.
  • We’re all adapting to new working conditions.
  • Risk benefit analysis. Headache but once thinking done can empower.
  • Suggestion of a resource / solution – Children’s Wood in Glasgow – they engaged with the youngsters causing problems in the wood and reduced the difficulties. Running things for them, and putting notices up about children playing in the woods.
  • ‘Leave no trace’ worth looking into and teaching it on.  Zoning, using kids to make fences, making simple markers, putting up notices for the public
  • Work with children over use of sites and ways of keeping the wild….show multiple uses of bramble eg chordage, flower tea, barrier for slugs (yes it works) and even barriers to protect newly planted trees, weaving baskets, see kindlingplayandtraining for lily’s blog on crafts

6. Elsa finished the session with a Visualisation – you and your FS site and FS group.

  • Froo rounded off with some general themes from the chat rooms.
  • Big thanks to Jen and Elsa for speaking during the webinar
  • Jen is leaving Sylva, but wants to still be involved with FS and the FSA. Will also be doing freelance work and still contactable on


Attendees who wished to remain had 2 choices:

  1. To continue discussing sites and asking Jen & Elsa questions
  2. To join a sharing circle, community building, uplifting session (Jon)

Participants joined relevant room

Continued Site Discussions – 18 people participated

Queries about signing into and using My Forest.

  • Can register under any email, could be work or personal.
  • Series of tutorial videos in the guidance section
  • Do report any tech glitches to Sylva so they can improve software.

People shared more stories from their site:

Sarah – ideas about recording species lists, almanac, bramble control,

Mhairi – Wildness of FS, allowing children to make choices about where to go, natural pathways form, seasonal changes.

Froo – How lockdown has allowed continued connection with site, when normally during summer wouldn’t be in there. 

Jen – mentioned wilding project in Knepp estate in Surrey, and how we are the ‘lumbering herbivores’  They have a book Wilding : the return of nature to a British farm

Question from Karin – what would your advice be to someone that has just taken on a woodland that hasn’t been used for forest school before and will be used 3 days a week for 3-4 year olds all year round?

Discussed importance of getting to know what you’ve got on site, zoning paths and areas, could use the Ecological impact assessment as a framework, importance of monitoring the impact – take seasonal photos. Could rope things off, reduce numbers or days if concerns arise. Could seek advice from professionals or volunteer specialist groups (eg ecology groups, botany groups). Link with land manager/forester to understand management plan for whole site.  

Sharing Circle – 15 people participated

People shared a variety of things:

Glenn shared one of his poems about solstice’s


I stood still at Yuletide

And you watch reindeer fly to bring you gifts

The spirit of the turning tide

Celebrated for thousands of years of thrift

In the winter the oaks so bare

Yet without a care the lady’s flower

The snowdrop, pierces the soil

A gift of hope of my gaining power

Soon, I balance the light in the sky

An egg on the ground of the peewit bird

As the hare play, to box, to fight, to try

The circle of life goes around and around

In the forest the buds are busting

In the fields the flowers jesting

The bees come, a’pollen clusting

Warm breeze and birds a’nesting

I gift the light

I warm the days

I relieve dark from the night

I nurture you all in so many ways

*Sola gjekk i ringen, 

Sumaren sende

*The sun wheeled within the ring

The summer she sends

The oaks in the forest are full of leaf

Caterpillar feed, oh that little thief

Gather, gather oh little bird

The chick in your nest, hunger relief 

And now the solstice stones your raised

The stillness of the shadows of nature you praised

And this my energy, I have reached my peak

Now my light song belongs to the meek

The leaves on the oak, my energy soak

The acorns, now ripen and swollen

The seeds in the fields now hang their heads

An ode to John Barleycorn they sang

Again, I balance the sky

The hare of the corn to fall

The chick of the egg to fly

Spirit of the harvest my gift to you all

Leaves fall in the breeze

Webs glisten in the dew

The damp cool soil, seed home 

Dark earth’s awaiting brew

For as long as I can, I will always turn

For as long as I can, I will always burn

For this praise is my gifts of spirit to my children

The nine wanders under my gaze

At Winter Nights remember those who fell

Don’t prank for chocolate and run and tell

Darks nights to bide, Reindeer will fly again

In the turning tide they bring you my gifts of the sun

2020 © Glenn Lane

*Lyrics from Solringen by Wardruna, in Old Norse and English

Discussion about Summer Solstice, marking the year.

Maria shared her experience of witnessing the summer solstice, the full moon phenomena and beautiful sunrise in London!

This lead to a discussion about sharing our land based culture?

Luke realised that poetry has a place in Forest school in supporting some sort of culture, he asked Do we have a Culture in our FS sessions?

Helen replied ‘When the group leaves the site, the story leaves with them, then is picked up again next week’.   There is definitely a ‘micro-culture’ ‘We have lots of micro-cultures going on all the time at FS’

Jon asked whether anyone uses the old celtic festivals as a framework within FS for marking the seasons.

Basia described tree hugging with children and linking to aspects of the years cycle. Also how 3 schools suffered from vandalism during lock down and so have got together to do site work at FS. And how lockdown has reminded about the importance of going out regularly.

Sally Anne asked a question about a mystery scent in the woodland. Many people offered possible – honeysuckle perhaps?

Useful links about seasonal cycles and celtic festivals –

Glennie Kindred – based in Derbyshire, has written many books  about celtic festivals, deepening connection, nature ceremony etc –

The Childrens Forest (Book) –    

 Everyone Came back together for the final closing – 28 people

 Jon Finished with a Poem ‘Just a Minute’ from Mary Oliver pertinent to the ecology and wildthings on our sites – which also have a voice:

‘Just a minute,’ said a voice in the weeds.
So I stood still
in the day’s exquisite early morning light
and so I didn’t crush with my great feet
any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by
where I was passing by
on my way to the blueberry fields,
and maybe it was the toad
and maybe it was the June beetle
and maybe it was the pink and tender worm
who does his work without limbs or eyes
and does it well
or maybe it was the walking stick, still frail
and walking humbly by, looking for a tree,
or maybe, like Blake’s wondrous meeting, it was
the elves, carrying one of their own
on a rose-petal coffin away, away
into the deep grasses. After awhile
the quaintest voice said, ‘Thank you.’
And then there was silence.
For the rest, I would keep you wondering.

‘Just a minute,’ said a voice

~ Mary Oliver

Thanks to all for attending!

Meeting Closed: 9.40


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