Forestry Commission - Using new technology to bring new visitors to Forestry Commission woods and forests in England

Logo: Forestry Commission England

The Gruffalo Spotters campaign was launched in February 2017 at FC sites across England and was delivered as a partnership between Forestry Commission England and Magic Light Pictures. The campaign uses the Gruffalo Spotter, an augmented reality app, to bring the Gruffalo and other characters from the bestselling children’s book to life along an interactive walking trail. ‎The app and trail provide a unique opportunity to engage visitors with the outdoors, providing learning messages about the forests and the habitats within them in a fun and innovative new way.

Image: Nexus Studio
Image: Nexus Studio

Magic Light Pictures, the Gruffalo licensor, produced the app, working with Nexus Studio. It is the first time that such technology has been developed for use in an outdoor setting and it has been a huge success from day one in drawing new and returning visitors to the forests. There were over 1 million views of the promotional film in the first 10 days after launch and the app achieved the number 1 spot in both the kids iPhone and iPad charts. The app also trended on the app store 2 days after launch.

Families follow clues along the trail and track signs of their favourite characters based on The Gruffalo, the best-selling picture book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

Image: Nexus Studio
Image: Nexus Studio

Once families have spotted the characters, the app is used to bring the 3D character animation to life and take photos alongside them. Their photos are automatically added to the device’s gallery. Forestry Commission England has seen a huge level of engagement with the app, with hundreds of pictures shared by visitors across their social media channels. 

The app mixes technology with the real world, encouraging children to get exploring and enabling them to have a new forest experience. The self-led trail and accompanying activity pack are full of facts and activities about forest animals and were developed by the Forestry Commission England’s Learning team to help connect visitors with our forests. They also worked with a group of rangers from sites across England to add their practical experience of how the campaign would best work on the ground.

Katy David, Head of Marketing Channels and Supporter Development at the Forestry Commission said, “This is an exciting development for Forestry Commission England and creates a different forest experience for visitors. The Gruffalo is a world renowned story and to be able to bring the characters to life in their natural setting is fantastic. It’s great we’ve had the opportunity to join the two worlds of technology and nature together in a sensitive way”

Image: Nexus Studio
Image: Nexus Studio

Gruffalo Spotters has received excellent feedback from family visitors. Families who got the exclusive chance to test the app before launch said:

“The app that works alongside the trail is genius. It brings the animals to life and lets

the children interact with all the characters. Fun for the whole family, highly recommend”.

“We really enjoyed the new Gruffalo Trail, it certainly has lots to keep the little ones busy and gets them thinking about the characters in the story.  I thought it was a good distance too, long enough that we can spend a good amount of time outside but not too long that little legs get tired!  The app was easy to use and adds another element to the trail, and I'm sure will help to engage older children, making it appeal to a wider age range.”

Forestry Commission England has worked with Magic Light Pictures for four years and this campaign has been the most ambitious yet for both sides. Barney Goodland, Head of Digital at Magic Light, explains more about their part in the campaign:

“Our partnership with Forestry Commission England has been an overwhelming success from the start so in this, our fourth year of activity, we wanted to do something really special. We’re always looking to further children’s enjoyment of The Gruffalo and this was an innovative way to incorporate new technology with a real world experience. Most importantly for us the app is completely free, which means that it’s there for everyone to enjoy.”

For more information about the Gruffalo Spotters campaign and a map of all the participating sites, visit . The Gruffalo Spotter’s app has been developed and animated by Nexus Studios and is available for free with no in-app purchases from the App Store and Google Play.

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