Outdoor Learning Experiences

Supporting learning and engagement with the natural environment for all ages

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Nature watching in the summer

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have proved challenging in many different ways. However there have been some silver linings to this cloud. Like many people I have noticed so much more in nature over this past six months than I feel I would have in a normal year. I am not sure why this is the case. It may be due to the fact that I have been closer to home and had more time to walk around my local environment and notice things. This may have been helped by the fact that there are fewer planes flying past (I live under the approach to an airport). Whatever the reason I have found that this spring and summer I have been able to observe, notice, and learn about local plants, animals and wildlife. This has provided a very enjoyable and soothing activity over a season which has, of course, been fraught with stress and challenge.

I have really enjoyed being able to stop and observe butterflies. I have had the time, patience and perseverance to follow the with my eyes and observe where they land,  and was lucky to photograph them. Using the Butterfly conservation website I’ve been able to identify many of them and it’s been lovely to match up the names I have heard with the details of their markings. I became a bit obsessed with trying to photograph them. Not all of the photographs worked but I do have a few which I will cherish for many years. The most obliging butterfly went from flower to flower on some Allium plants in my garden. It was so fixated on the visiting each minute flower that I had time to go inside, find my phone, and take many pictures. The ensuing picture is one of my favourite from the summer.

In the spring, on a morning when I was feeling a little bit fed up, I was thrilled to see a pair of coots with seven young cootlets on a large pond near our house. I had never seen young cootlets before. They had bright red heads, with a bit of a yellow necklace, over their dark bodies. I cannot quite see the evolutionary advantage of having such a bright and visible head when young. Obviously it helps the parents spot and keep track of their young, but surely it also helps any prey also see the young. Over the summer I had the pleasure of watching these young grow, gradually gaining independence from their parents as first they were able to swim a bit further from their parents and later as they gained even more freedom. Their brightly coloured heads gradually turned darker. With binoculars, I was able to watch the parents dip their beaks into the water, bring up pondweed of some sort, and then feed it to their offspring. As the cootlets grew they developed what I think of as their teenage plumage which involved a white stripe down their neck and the front of the chest. As I write now at the end of August they are looking more and more like their parents. They continue to live and swim about as a family group. The parents appear very aggressive when they see other ducks (mallards) and I believe they may be the reason why we have had fewer Canada geese on the pond this year. I don’t know much about coots but I am hoping that at least some of the family will return next year.

We have also enjoyed having other ducks come by, though not stay through the season. I am sure we had a Mandarin duck for a week or so, and some Egyptian Geese came and went several times. There have also been moorhens, and tufted ducks, as well as Mallards.

Wildflowers also seem to be abundant this year. Friends introduced me to an App (Seek) which has helped me identify many flowers. So once again I had the pleasure of connecting names I’ve read about with the actual physical plant.

I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to identifying things, and learning about what I have seen. However I think this is the first year that I feel an affinity with those who call themselves naturalists. I would love to be able to draw or paint what I see, and keep in nature diary or nature journal in the way I see others do. However I think photos are likely to give a better likeness.

Knowing our Nature – September

September sees the turning of the year towards autumn. Swifts should have already left flying south to spend their winter in sub-Saharan Africa, where they follow the rains to take advantage of fast changes in insect populations. Swallows will be lining up on the telegraph wires chattering to each other before their migration south- an incredible journey taking them through Europe and Morocco, before crossing the Sahara Desert and the Congo rainforest to reach South Africa and Namibia.  Swallows migrate during daylight, flying quite low and covering about 320 km (200 miles) each day.  At night they roost in huge flocks in reed-beds at traditional stopover spots. Since swallows feed entirely on flying insects, they don’t need to fatten up before leaving, but can snap up their food along the way. Nonetheless, many die of starvation. If they survive, they can live for up to sixteen years.

Wild flower-wise, purple is now the dominant colour. Thistles and teasels on waste ground attract birds such as goldfinches and linnets to feed on their seeds.  Purple loosestrife is a magnet for insects of all kinds and can be seen in damp boggy areas including ponds and by the Mimram. Harebells too are still in flower this month. They dislike competition so are often found in rabbit grazed neutral to acidic grassland.

The season of harvest always begins with blackberries, which have come early this year. You can tell when they are ripe as you will notice the purple droppings of Blackbirds! Apples and pears will be ripening, with some early varieties ready for picking.

Following their crop harvest, farmers are sowing next year’s crop. At Harvest Festivals in church, we sing “We plough the fields and scatter” but actually, things have got a bit more high tech since that hymn was written. Some farmers plough the soil, then return to break up the clods into a fine tilth, which provides a good seedbed for next year’s crop. Seed drills insert seeds into the soil at the correct depth and spacing, and then sometimes a roller passes over the soil to ensure everything is firmly in place. It’s similar to gardeners digging over the soil, then raking, sowing, and tamping everything down. However, there is now a growing movement towards no-till farming though which farmers try to minimise disturbance to the soil. Instead of ploughing and manipulating the soil, a seed drill sows seed directly into the soil, through the stubble remaining from the pervious year’s crop. These drills have a small rotary blade which opens a small slot in the soil, into which the seed is placed. It’s a bit like sliding a spade into soil, and inserting a seed in the crack which is opened, without having to lift and turn the soil. The advantages include only one pass over the soil, saving both time and fuel costs; leaving the organic matter in the stubble and roots to decompose in the soil, so keeping organic carbon in the soil (good for climate change). However, crop rotations need to be carefully managed to avoid build up of crop diseases, or weeds, in the fields. You will see both traditional and no-till farming practiced in the fields in the Parish.


Julie Wise and Fran Harris

Knowing our Nature – August

August is the month for harvest, and you will undoubtedly notice this as you see tractors, grain carts, and combine harvesters in the fields and on the lanes. Generally, the first of the 4 cereal grain crops to be harvested is barley, followed by wheat, and then oats. Some farmers may also be harvesting peas, beans and oil seed rape in this region.

The date on which harvest begins will depend on when the crops mature, and the weather. This year has had drought periods (March / April) and very rainy periods, which has affected the speed at which crops grow. You will have noticed that the crops have changed colour from green to gold as they mature.

Once ready to harvest, there is also the weather to consider. Farmers are hoping for dry weather so the sun will do all the ripening and drying, and the grain can go straight into the barn, and be stored safely before we sell later in the year. Farmers always wait for the dew to evaporate before beginning to harvest. They then keep going until the dew settles again, which explains why farmers tend to harvest from about 11 am to midnight (sometimes later) rather than normal working hours. If there is poor weather, farmers may be forced to harvest crops when they are damp, or even very wet. This then requires that the grain is passed through a grain dryer before storage. Obviously, this is an expensive process, in terms of energy, time and labour, and so farmers would prefer to delay a few days if better weather is forecast.

In addition to the grain, the straw is also harvested and stored for use in the coming year for feeding and bedding the cattle.

Many people have been noticing nature and wildlife much more during the lockdown period. Butterflies and moths seem to be more abundant this year. If you cut back your Buddleia in late April it will be in flower during August and able to host the butterflies on the wing this month such as Painted Ladies and Red Admirals and of course the Hairstreaks.

The Purple Hairstreak flits in and out of oak trees mainly staying in the canopy but they can be seen on warm summer evenings around the lower branches.  The caterpillar feeds on the oak leaves of native and non-native trees.

Moths are also out in abundance taking advantage of the warmer nights.  Look out for the larger Hawkmoths which may enter our houses when windows are left open attracted by the lights.  Seen locally are Poplar, Small Elephant and Privet Hawkmoths.

These also attract the local bat communities of course whose maternity colonies begin to disperse and move on to mating roosts.  The young bats begin to catch insects for themselves and no longer need their mothers’ milk.

The birds are quiet although the song of Wrens, Yellowhammers, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Buntings, Linnets and Song Thrushes may be heard as they continue to nest raising a late brood.


Fran Harris and Julie Wise

This blog first appeared in the St. Paul’s Walden Parish Magazine

August 2020

Knowing our Nature – July


By July we are firmly in summer. Early spring flowers have passed, trees are no longer flowering, and bird calls diminish as the breeding season is over. Crops are growing taller, and as seed heads emerge, it is easier to distinguish between oats, wheat and barley. Rainfall in the spring was very low, and so crops may not be as tall as in previous years.

At Easthall Farm, all cattle are out in the fields, the calves alongside their mothers. The bulls go into the fields to serve the cows. We practice mob grazing with most of the cows running together as one large herd.  The fields are divided into sections with electric wires so the livestock move onto fresh grass most days. While on a section of a field, livestock eat one third of the grass, trampling one third into the soil into the soil and leaving one third to harvest more sunshine. Once moved on, the grassland has a lengthy period of recovery and regrowth before grazing is repeated. Mob grazing is believed to support the build up of organic matter in the soil, and by allowing the grass to grow tall and set seed in between periods of grazing, it provides a habitat for wildlife.

July is all about butterflies and moths.  The long-distance migrant Painted Lady butterfly arrives from North Africa and the Middle East. Its caterpillars feed on mainly thistles. The day flying Hummingbird Hawkmoth is also buzzing around flowers for nectar, resembling the tiniest of Hummingbirds hovering with their long proboscis. Their caterpillars feed on Lady’s Bedstraw and Red Valerian, both easy to grow in garden borders.

In oak woodland glades and rides you may be lucky to see a Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly fluttering and gliding along in search of nectar. Its caterpillars feed on the Common Dog-violet which is abundant on our local woodland floors.

The Purple Emperor butterfly is thought to be quite rare in Hertfordshire although they have been spotted near Hitch Wood and at Rusling End. Frequenting the tops of oak trees, they fly for about two to three weeks in July. The males flutter above the canopies of large oaks displaying to the females below. You will need binoculars to spot them but it is possible. Occasionally they are known to settle on dog poo to suck the energy giving salts! Their caterpillars feed on Goat Willow.

In the open meadows and grasslands you will see the Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Small Copper, Ringlet, and various Skippers which can be a bit tricky to tell apart, as well as the Marbled White which is actually black with white spots.

Where do butterflies go when it rains? They hide, usually going to the same places they do for the night. Some butterflies hide under large leaves, some crawl down into dense leaves or under rocks, and some just sit head down on grass stems or bushes with wings held tightly.

Julie Wise and Frances Harris

This blog first appeared in the St. Paul’s Walden Parish Magazine.


Knowing Our Nature – June

By June we are definitely in summer, with the days at their longest as we approach the summer solstice. This is a time of rapid growth, for crops and pasture on agricultural land, and for natural vegetation.

If you are interested in wild flowers, there are many to look out for in this area in June. I’m writing from Hertfordshire, where you could visit St Paul’s Walden churchyard to see the prettiest meadow with Common spotted Orchid, Lady’s Bedstraw, Lesser Stitchwort, Oxeye Daisy, Meadow Buttercup and many more plants in flower. Walk to Hitch Spring for Common Spotted Orchid, Angelica, Pignut and Common Sorrel in flower.

Scarlet Pimpernel was once a common arable weed and is now seen in gardens and on roadside verges. It only opens when the sun shines and is known as the poor man’s weather glass as the flowers close when the atmospheric pressure drops and bad weather approaches.  Look out for the pretty grass Crested Dogstail which is a tight rather stiff-looking grass with narrow, green leaves in flower now. It has short, upright flower spikes with a tightly packed cluster of spikelets (containing the flowers) arranged in a long, rectangular shape. Apparently, it was grown as a crop and used to make bonnets. Yellow Rattle is in flower and is semi- parasitic feeding off the nutrients in grass roots. For this reason, it was once seen as an indicator of poor grassland by farmers, but is now often used to turn improved grassland back to meadow – by feeding off the vigorous grasses, it eventually allows more delicate, traditional species to push their way through. Look out for Wild Hop growing in the hedgerows. Elder flowers are great for making Elderflower cordial but leave some blossom to produce berries for hungry birds in the autumn.

June is a great month for moths, with some of our largest and most impressive species now ‘on the wing’, so why not try nature-spotting at dusk? Especially local is the Elephant Hawk Moth which feed on Rosebay Willowherb, a tall pink flowering plant of disturbed ground such as verges, woodland clearings and waste ground.

Dragonflies and Damselflies are on the wing – to tell the difference Dragonflies rest with their wings open and Damselflies rest with their wings closed. If you are lucky enough to have a wildlife pond watch the Blue Damselflies mate and lay their eggs on the pond vegetation.

Bats are on the wing at dusk, locally Pipistrelle, Long Eared Bats and Barbastelles. You may also be fortunate enough to see fallow deer, or muntjac, with their young.

If you are still feeding the birds, look out for parents bringing their fledglings to the feeders, birds such as Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Robins, Goldfinches, Blue Tits and Dunnocks will take advantage of the free food. Ducks and ducklings, Geese and Goslings, are on local ponds.

Many of the cows at East Hall Farm have calved, and the herd is moving around the fields on the mob grazing system. Mick Hickman, the stockman, has been posting pictures of the calves on the Whitwell facebook page, and also updating people with the movements of the herd around the fields.

In a normal year, Open Farm Sunday takes place in the first half of June, providing an opportunity for people to visit farms, and learn about food production. This year the event has been postponed to September 20th. In the interim, an online Farm Sunday is taking place on 7th June, which you can follow by searching #LOFS20.

Fran Bowes Lyon and Julie Wise

Knowing our Nature: new monthly series

Knowing our Nature: What is happening in the countryside in May

In the March Parish Magazine, we advertised that there would be an open meeting to discuss conservation issues in the Parish. Obviously, we were not able to meet in the pub due to the lockdown measures, but a meeting was held by Zoom.  The aim was to provide an opportunity to engage with members of the community about farming and the countryside, and to discover what was important to people and why. One of the things to come out from all of this was the desire to continue engaging with people, and the need for more sharing of information, and education about our countryside. As a result, we thought it would be interesting to write something each month f, explaining what the farms are up to, and what you might see in the countryside. Initially published in the Parish Magazine, we thought these articles would also provide a useful blog and resource for years to come.  So this is the first of 12, written in April, but looking forward to May.

April has been a month where spring crops have been sown, and cows are calving. Winter sown crops have enjoyed the good weather and are now coming along well and needing fertilising.

In May, we anticipate further calving. The cows of East Hall Farm will be out and grazing the fields around Stagenhoe. We practice mob grazing, which means that we keep the animals in a tight herd and move them on to fresh grass each day. This means that the grass is grazed thoroughly, but then left for between 30 – 60 days to grow tall and set seed, before being grazed again. The cows are circulated through sections of grazing, delineated by moveable electric fencing, and so only return to the same field after all other grassland land has been grazed. So if you see the cows, they will be nearby, but not in the exact same space, the next day.

The Bluebells will be almost coming to an end, but you may still catch some in Reynolds or Hitch Wood. Bluebells do not survive either picking or trampling, so please, enjoy looking at them where they area, but stick to the footpath and leave them where you see them.

Spring and early summer is also a great time for flowers. Hitch Spring has tremendous wildflowers – cowslips, wood anemone and lesser celandine grow well. Other flowers to be seen in May are common spotted orchids, pignut, bulbous and meadow buttercups and Lady’s smock. Along roadsides cow parsley will be coming out, and elder flower will also be coming out. There are some pretty early flowering grasses to see in meadows too in May – crested dogstail, sweet vernal grass and meadow foxtail.

Common Blue butterflies are flying by the end of May and can be seen in hay meadows as their caterpillars feed on birdsfoot trefoil and clover.  Other butterflies to look out for are red admirals, peacock, brimstone, comma, large white and speckled wood which likes the edge of woodland but may come into tree filled gardens.  Holly blues are on the wing now but can also be seen next month.

Most songbirds will be nesting by May and the best time for the dawn chorus if anyone can rise early enough (4.30 to 6.30am) will be the first week of May. The familiar yellowhammer song of ‘little bread and no cheese’ can be heard from hedgerows. Swallows, house martins and swifts will have returned to their regular nesting sites and be repairing their nests with mud from local ponds and wet places.  Other migrants such as spotted flycatchers will have also returned.

In some years, we have had cuckoos in Reynolds Wood and Hounsfield wood. In previous years they have arrived in early May. Last year, I did not hear to many in Reynolds, but I hope they will be back in force this year. It is possible to hear their distinctive call from quite far away. This year, with the reduction in flights from Luton Airport, I hope it will be even easier. In fact, I have noticed much more birdsong this year already.

Towards the end of May tawny owlets may be seen as they nest early in March.

There is also likely to be lots of activity on or near water. Frog and toad spawn will have hatched so plenty of tadpoles around and look out for large dragonfly nymphs too which enjoy eating a tadpole or two.  On the Mimram, stonefly larva and caddis fly larvae were seen in March, and mayfly larvae, which will of course be more active in May.

If you spot anything interesting, or would like to contribute your knowledge to these monthly nature updates, please let me know by emailing info@outdoorlearningexperiences.org


Compiled by Frances,  with supporting material from Sarah Kohl and Julie Wise.

Making and Easter Garden

How to make an Easter Garden

The aim of this exercise is to make a small model representing Good Friday and Easter. Ideally it will include the hill with three crosses (Jesus was crucified with two other men, one on each side), and also the garden where he was laid to rest. You might want some distance between the two.

Find the largest tray you can. It might be from the kitchen, baking cupboard, or an old drawer, or a box with low sides.

Gather some dirt to fill it so you have some earth from which to mould your landscape.

Choose one end to be the hill and the crucifixion, and add more dirt to create a mound, representing the hill on which Jesus was crucified. Make three crosses and put them in place – these represent Jesus and the two criminals who were crucified alongside him. The story of the crucifixion can be found in the Bible in Matthew chapter 27, verses 32-56, Mark 15: 21-41, Luke 23: 33-49 or John 19: 7-37.

At the other end, try to recreate the garden where Jesus was buried, and the tomb.

We know the tomb was made of rock, so perhaps gather rocks to create a tomb. Effectively you are trying to create a cave, or space, where Jesus’ body would have been laid. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’s body from the cross and took it to the tomb (Matthew 27: 57-61), Luke 23: 50-56, Mark 15: 42-47 and John 19:38-42).  You could consider placing a small shrouded figure inside the tomb before you seal it. This garden area can be decorated to look nice.

Imagine the landscape of time, and decorate your garden as you like.

Don’t forget that on Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection, you can roll the stone away, as Jesus will rise and the tomb will be empty. The story of Easter morning is found in the Bible in Matthew 28: 1-10,  Mark 16: 1-11, Luke 24: 1-12 or John 20:1-18.

We’ve created a short video with instructions.

Summer events: Easter and Summer Forest of Frogs Camps

Since 2014 we have offered a week of summer camp which combines drama activities with nature art and craft and forest school. Aimed at primary school children, the camp provides a last chance to enjoy the summer sunshine and be outdoors. Children have created and then acted out their own plays, coached by drama teachers.  In some years, a group of older children, 13-18, have rehearsed and performed abridged versions of Shakespeare’s A mid-summer night’s dream, and The Railway Children. A local artist has encouraged them to become creative with clay, willow weaving, flowers and leaves. And of course, there has been den making, hide and seek, treasure hunts, and camp fires on which to toast marshmallows, lead by a forest school leader.

After taking a break last summer, we have regrouped and are now offering two opportunities for children to be involved in our camps. At Easter, we will be offering a two day taster, focusing on Roald Dahl’s stories, which will take place on April 16th and 17th.

From  August 24th – 28th, we will be offering a full week (Mon- Fri) of activities.  Details of the theme for the summer event will be published in late Spring.

If you are interested in experiencing more drama in the gardens, we have several events lined up. At Garden Open events, you can enjoy a stroll around the gardens, and a cream tea or cakes.

If you are interested in outdoor theatre, the Handlebards will be performing  “A comedy of Errors” in May, and Felici Opera will be performing highlights from Opera in July. See the details below.

Sunday 29th March – Garden Open, in aid of National Garden Scheme (NGS)

Thursday 16th – Friday 17th April – Children’s activity camp “Forest of Frogs” in the Garden. Outdoor theatre workshop, nature art and craft and forest school.

Sunday 5th May – Garden Open, in aid of National Garden Scheme (NGS)

Thursday 28th May – Outdoor theatre: Shakespeare’s A comedy of Errors, performed by The Handlebards. In aid of All Saint’s Church, St. Paul’s Walden.

Sunday 7th June – Garden Open, in aid of National Garden Scheme (NGS) and also Open Farm Sunday.

Sunday 12th July – Concert in the garden. Puccini, by Felici Opera, in aid of Garden House Hospice

August 24th -28th – Forest of Frogs Summer Camp. Outdoor theatre, nature art and craft and Forest School.

Autumn 2019 upcoming events

Art in the Woods will take place again on Sunday October 13th, 2-4 pm. Nature art and craft and delicious cakes and hot drinks in Hitch Wood. Click here for further information.

In addition, some local organisations are running events at East Hall Farm.

Saturday September 21st, Bat Walk, St. Paul’s Walden. See Down the Woods to book.

Sunday September 22nd, the St. Paul’s Walden Bury Run will be taking place. Starting at St. Paul’s Walden Bury, you can chose to run either 2k, 5k or 10k distances across the lovely Hertfordshire countryside where our outdoor learning also takes place. Outdoor Learning Experiences is not organising the run, but supporting through volunteering. See St. Paul’s Walden Bury run for more details and to register.


Wednesday 16th October, Hertfordshire Forest School cluster group meeting at Within the Walls, St .Paul’s Walden from 3 pm.



Upcoming events

June 9th is Open Farm Sunday, so we will have some displays in the field in front of St. Paul’s Walden Bury, and also be offering tractor-trailer rides around the farm. This is an opportunity to find out more about the local countryside, what we produce, how we manage the environment to support wildlife, and our system of grazing cattle. Alongside this, the Bury Gardens are open for the National Gardens Scheme charities, from 2-7pm with teas served by the PCC or WI. There is a charge to enter the gardens, which goes to the charity, but Open Farm Sunday events are free.  Within the Walls community garden project is also open, so if you are interested in knowing more about what they offer, or how you could help, do drop in.

This is the best time of year to learn about farming, and so if you know of a group or school who would like a farm tour, please do get in touch to arrange a mutually convenient time.

Through the summer term we will also be welcoming school children from St. Paul’s Walden school and Preston school for forest school sessions.

In August, we will be running our Forest of Frogs Summer camp, from August 19th – 22nd. Children aged 6-12 can engage in forest school, drama, nature arts and crafts and treasure hunts in the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury. This year bookings are through eventbrite. There is a link from the home pages of www.stpaulswaldenbury.co.uk and www.outdoorlearningexperiences.org websites.

In September, the St. Paul’s Walden Bury run will take place on Sunday the 22nd, starting and finishing in the gardens. There are 10k, 5k courses, and a 2k fun run available. Autism Angels runs this event to raise money for their charitable work.

Our outdoor season ends with Art in the Woods on October 13th, from 2-4:30 pm in Hitch Wood.

Summer Camp 2017

Our Forest Of Frogs summer camp ran from August 21st – 25th, 2017. With more than 50 children coming each day, we had a busy week. Younger children (aged 6-12) engaged in drama and music activities, forest school, and nature art and craft. Teenagers (12-19) put their minds to a production of Romeo and Juliet. In between the rehearsals, they still had time to enjoy some camp fires, wood caring, and learned the tango! By Friday afternoon they were presenting an amazing performance first to the younger children, and later to their friends and parents. Many thanks to Marking Rawlings and Elizabeth Keates who adapted the script, cast and directed the production so professionally.

The collaboration with Box of Frogs Theatre Academy (https://www.facebook.com/Box-of-Frogs-Theatre-Academy-109053859244862/) will continue.

W’ll be up and running again next year – Dates provisionally set for Aug 20th-24th, 2018. As ever, in the beautiful gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury.


Summer camp plans for August 2017

Last year we added a new feature to our Forest of Frogs summer camp. Working with Elizabeth Keates, we offered a week of more drama based activities for teenagers. The teenagers were cast in  a shortened version of “A midsummer night’s dream”, and during the week they chose a venue in the gardens to be their stage, practised their lines,  choreographed their movements, and made their costumes. Teenagers less interested in a full acting role played  a part too – developing props, composing music etc. On the final Friday afternoon, they were able to perform their play to an audience of parents and friends, who were treated to a tour of the garden as they followed the troupe through the acts of the play.

Of course, they still wanted to enjoy some of the traditional forest of frogs activities, so they were still able to enjoy campfires, build dens, and do some nature art as well and learn the art of tool making and utilizing camping gear. They learned how to create tools like hunting knifes and the right use of CBN Wheels.

Following the success of last year, we plan to do another drama workshop for teenagers. The play will depend on the number of people who enrol, as we want to be sure to take on something which suits those coming. Please see the poster  or contact Sarah Cash, sarahcashbofts@btinternet.com to find out more, and book your place.


Why farmers open to the public

Open Farm Sunday 2016

In 2008 I interviewed 34 about their motivations, and rewards, for hosting visits to their farms. As we approach the month of “Open farm schooldays” and the weekend of Open Farm Sunday, when more than 400 farmers will open their doors to the public, it’s worth revisiting the reasons why they do so.

  1. A belief that the wider public (children and parents alike) had lost touch with the knowledge about where food comes from. Famers are keen to explain how food is produced, and teach children about the source of the food they eat. “It’s important for the agricultural industry to engage with customers and future customers.”
  2. A belief that that children need to be taken out of the classroom to experience different learning opportunities.  “Education of children through hands-on visits to farms rather than books and academic work a better way”.
  3. A desire for children to learn about their local environment. “The school curriculum [comes from] far afield: Africa, S America… but local countryside should be included also”
  4. Many farmers feel privileged to have access to the countryside, and want to share this with others.  “Sharing countryside with people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to be there.”
  5. “To show them why we do what we do.” Explaining complicated farming operations to those who might observe this from a distance, justifying the use of current farming practices, including methods of rearing livestock, use of pesticides and herbicides.  “Get people out, see what we do, grow.”
  6. A desire to justify the subsidies that farmers are given. Farmers were well aware that they receive a large amount from the public purse in the form of subsidies and grants, and felt they should show how the money was used, and why it was needed.  “Feel it is part of the social responsibility of farmers to educate the wider public.”
  7. Counteract the bad press of E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks, Mad Cow disease. Farmers want to show counteract these fears by showing that they are farming responsibly.  “show how we make food safe and affordable.”
  8. Promote agricultural careers.  “The more we can interact with children it will affect their decisions about what they want to do and where they want to work.”
  9. Take pride in their work, their industry. “Overcomes “get off my land” perception.” “To promote the industry we spend our lives in.”
  10. In addition to these industry concerns, many farmers said they did it because of the personal rewards of seeing children really enjoying themselves, and discovering about food, farming and the countryside. “Pleasure out of seeing them enjoy themselves.”  This personal, heart-warming reward was, for many, justification in itself to do the visits. “I’m very lucky in what I do.” 


To see the full research report visit http://bit.ly/1XQgyso

#ofs2016; @francesharris00; @outdoorlearnin2

Why Open Farm Sunday?

Open Farm Sunday 2016

Farming is the industry that produces much of our food, and the land on which food is produced is very visible to the public, as we drive by on roads or walk through the countryside. However, the opportunity to see or speak to the farmer, who is the manager of the food production business, is less common. Yet what comes from the farm impacts on our view of the countryside, what we eat, and the local ecology, land use and wider environment.

Open Farm Sunday provides the opportunity to speak to farmers. It is scheduled for the time of year when farms are full of arable crops and livestock (including calves and lambs) but before farmers are busy with harvesting. It’s a chance to meet farmers, hear from them, ask questions, and engage in discussion and debate about what they do and why they do it.

It’s also a chance for farmers to present a realistic view of what farming is all about these days. It’s not all about old men with straw in their hair: farmers can be women as well as men, and young too!

Modern farming is high tech, environmentally aware, caring about the soil, animal welfare and ecology, while also providing food for customers. Farmers are also custodians of miles of public access footpaths and bridleways which provide the opportunity for anyone to get out and take a walk in nature.

Open Farm Sunday has been running for more than 10 years now. On one Sunday, farmers across the country open their gates and invite the public in to find out more about what they do on a daily basis. Events vary, from farm walks to larger events with multiple activities. This year, there will be a range of activities to explain some of the science in farming.

For teachers and schools, Open Farm School days offers the opportunity for a farm visit for a whole class on a school day. If you are a teacher whole is wondering about farm visits, Open Farm Sunday can be a good opportunity to check out a farm visit yourself, prior to arranging to bring the children along.

To find a farm near you, go to https://farmsunday.org/  It promises to be a great day out!

Environmental education and outdoor learning in Bhutan

I’ve just returned from Bhutan, the small Himalayan kingdom renowned for its pursuit of gross national happiness (GNH) instead of gross domestic product (GDP). While there, I attended the international conference on GNH, a meeting of hundreds of academics and practitioners all interested in different aspects of GNH, from economic models to promoting the values of GNH.

There are four central pillars of GNH:

-sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development

-conservation of the environment

-preservation and promotion of culture

-good governance

All policies are screened against these four pillars.

GNH is pursued through activities across 9 domains, relating to psychological wellbeing, health, living standards, ecological diversity and resilience, good governance, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, education, and time use.

Of course, my interest was in the educational sphere. My conference paper explored the potential of outdoor learning experiences to support teaching of the values of GNH. My research on learning at forest school shows that the greatest learning at forest school concerns children’s personal, social and emotional development. The impact on children’s engagement with nature  and their sense of valuing nature is also important, and learning in this area is greater than the more widely expected learning about nature itself (e.g. biology, geography).  (See Harris, F. 2015 The nature of learning at forest school, published by Education 3-13 and available online at their website.)

I argued that learning about personal and social development, and engagement and valuing nature, complement the GNH values which are to be embedded in teaching within Bhutanese schools. Outdoor learning will not, in itself, support teaching of all GNH values, but can go a significant way towards teaching in this area. Further, the move to outdoor learning could be an enjoyable change for schools which have taken a fairly formal, traditional approach to learning. The move outdoors can be stimulating as it releases children from the constraints of the 4 walls of the classroom, and the tules for behaviour in the classroom. Outdoor settings provide freedoms: to move, to be noisier, to interact more, which can be a real relief for students who find sitting still or have ADHD. (These ideas are explored further in a paper I am writing at the moment).

A new ‘Green schools for a green Bhutan’ programme is supporting a transition to new learning styles. I was fortunate to be able to visit several schools, and do some work with pupils. I made films for the ‘Royal Tutorial Project’ on plant growth, management of soil fertility and valuing biodiversity. These films, aimed at 13-16 year olds and the general public, are aired on a Sunday evenings on  TV, by the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. A fourth film, showcasing some very successful examples of outdoor learning in schools will, I hope, encourage more teachers to take their children outside.


Countryside Classroom

This week marks the launch of Countryside Classroom, a website which promotes learning about food, farming and the natural environment.


Countryside classroom is the result of the  enthusiasm of a group of organisations who are committed to ensuing that children and young people have the opportunity to experience and understand more about

Food: where it comes from, how it is grown and cooked

Farming: from the care and preparation of the soil through to harvesting crops

The Natural Environment: providing teachers and parents with ideas, knowledge and skills to get children outdoors to explore our natural environment whether it be through forest school or outdoor science lessons orienteering or just recognizing common plants and animals.

Outdoor Learning Experiences has been a part of the development of Countryside Classroom, as a member of the core committee of organisations which worked towards its development and launch. However countryside classroom has only been possible due to the many organisations that have offered learning materials, venues or expertise to ensure that wherever you are located in England, and whatever you want to do, Countryside Classroom has ideas and resources to support you.

Its free, its open to all. Have a look!


Our summer season of events

As the school year comes to an end we have enjoyed a wide range of groups at Outdoor Learning Experiences. Reception and year one children have enjoyed a series of forest school sessions; older children have also enjoyed forest school, including some simple wood carving and campfire cooking. There have also been farm tours, and some orienteering and map reading session.

There will be a short lull for the school holidays, and then the summer camp will run from August 24th – 28th.

Our “forest of frogs summer camp” brings together forest school activities, nature art and craft, and the skills of box of frogs theatre school, to provide a fantastic week at the end of the school holidays. The whole takes place in the wonderful setting of the gardens at St. Paul’s Walden Bury (see stpaulswaldenbury.co.uk), where the children can run and play, develop characters and plot lines, and chose to stage their plays in different areas of the garden. They also go on treasure hunts and develop their map reading skills. Nature art and craft is a big part of it, as they make the most of the willow to weave and build, and use clay and leaves and flowers for lots of nature art and craft. Of course, there is also some forest for camp fires, den making, and toasting marshmallows.

There are still a few spaces left, so it you would like to book for the whole week or just a day or two, please contact sarahcashbofts@btinternet.com or call 07973818254. For further info see the “Forest of Frogs” web page under the  “Annual events” tab.

Upcoming events this summer

Summer is the high season for outdoor learning. We are now fully booked with forest school, farm visits, and some interesting orienteering activities all lined up for a range of schools between now and the end of the summer term.


In addition, Open Farm Sunday will take place on June 7th. From 2:30-5:00 will be offering free farm tours, which give you the opportunity to find out more about the fields, woods and livestock at East Hall Farm. You can also find out more about our cows, and the beef we sell. Farm Sunday runs alongside the opening of the gardens at St. Paul’s Walden Bury.  The Farm tours are free, whereas entry to the gardens (and access to the delicious tea and cakes) has the normal charge, all of which goes to charity (see www.stpaulswaldenbury.co.uk for further details).

In August, we are running the Forest of Frogs summer camp, from Aug 24-28th. The week brings together Forest School and Box of Frogs Theatre School. We will be combining elements of each to provide an interesting but unique summer camp experience which will include forest school activities, drama workshops, and nature art and craft, suitable for children aged 6-13. It will take place in the gardens of St. Paul’s Walden Bury. Orienteering, camp fires, music, drama, art and craft. Opportunities abound for fun and inspiration! To book for individual days or the full week contact sarahcashbofts@btinternet.com.



What’s in a name?

Why Outdoor Learning Experiences? Well, everything we do is outdoors. Children spend most of their time at school indoors, but sometimes there’s s a real benefit in moving outside the classroom, away from the same desks and tables, and learning in a different way. Learning can involve using all our senses, listening, feeling, smelling, seeing, touching, and even sometimes tasting. I have heard some teachers claim that quite a lot of the primary school curriculum could be taught out of doors.  While I am not sure I would go that far, I do think that much more can be taught outdoors than is done so.

So much of science and geography lends itself to outdoor teaching, and aspects of history can be taught outdoors too. It’s about exploring the world and discovering what is out there. Outdoor learning makes things more relevant, and breaks down the separation between “book learning” and “real world learning”.

Learning outdoors, in the natural environment, makes learning a more memorable experience.  Learners experience the weather, whether it is sunshine on their faces, or a memorable rain storm. They smell the aromas, feel the textures of things such as leaves, bark or mud, in their fingers or beneath their feet. They run up or down hills, experience the darkness of the woods and the brightness of the sunshine.

Outdoor learning is not separate from indoor learning: they are linked. Outdoor learning can develop a wider vocabulary, and be the topic of new writing back in the classroom. Visiting a farm or allotment at harvest time can contribute to RE teaching at Harvest festival.  FACE (farming and countryside education) sums this up in a fantastic diagram which depicts all the topics surrounding a tractor, and can be seen among the images appearing on the educational visits page.

Outdoor learning also allows children to develop “soft skills” alongside curriculum topics, outdoors. So team working, overcoming challenges, assessing risk, developing social skills – all these can also be enhanced with learning outdoors.

Take your children outdoors to experience a new way of learning!