Countryside Skills at Earth Trust

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Logo: Earth Trust
Bottle feeding lambs in the spring (Earth Trust)
Bottle feeding lambs in the spring (Earth Trust)

Fundamental to our work at Earth Trust is the understanding that in order to care for something you have to love it first, which can only come from learning about it. We’re an environmental learning charity caring for green spaces in Oxfordshire, including smaller urban community reserves as well as iconic landscapes. Our green spaces include five community reserves in towns and villages, an ancient scheduled monument, woodland, arable farmland, wetlands along the river Thames and grassland wildflower meadows. We demonstrate that public access to green space, thriving biodiversity and sustainable land management can all go hand in hand.

We’ve been sharing our green spaces with people of all ages for over 35 years. Welcoming people onto the farm, sharing wildlife experiences and teaching outdoor skills. We have a dedicated team of tutors who work alongside volunteers to deliver our education programme, and our outdoor classrooms provide the perfect setting for learning about wildlife, the environment and the history of the landscape.

Cooking on an open fire (Earth Trust)
Cooking on an open fire (Earth Trust)

World Youth Skills Day this year is taking place in a challenging context. Earth Trust has been able to keep its green spaces open to the public during the lockdown, giving people vital wildlife-rich green spaces to take daily exercise, stay healthy in body and mind, and retain resilience. However, our education programme was halted. Now, as lockdown measures ease, we’re looking at how to restart our activities with children and young people, ensuring they are able to use our amazing green spaces to learn new skills, gain experience of the outdoors and learn how to care for it. Experiential learning and vocational skills development in the natural world is a key part of equipping young people with skills for entrepreneurship and employment. And, just as importantly, we want to share the physical health and mental wellbeing benefits that come from spending time in natural environments, too.

Our Countryside Skills course offers experience and qualifications to pupils who can find the traditional academic environment challenging. It empowers young people to make positive choices for themselves through practical, hands-on outdoor activities.

Students learning coppicing skills in the autumn (Earth Trust)
Students learning coppicing skills in the autumn (Earth Trust)

Sessions take place predominantly outdoors on the Earth Trust Farm. The course currently covers four units, which are delivered at different levels depending on the needs of the students. The course covers topics including leisure and recreation, animal husbandry, planting, and woodland management. Earth Trust’s ethos of demonstrating the symbiosis of land management and farming with the natural environment and the outstanding green and blue spaces that we care for weaves through all elements of the course. Amongst other things, students learn about techniques that will maintain and enhance a specific habitat, as well as the possible threats to it. They’ll also learn about the value of the countryside for public recreation and enjoyment while developing confidence, team working, critical thinking and awareness skills.

These are often children that have been told by society that they need to modify or restrict their behaviour and it is inspiring to see them flourish as they experience the freedom of the outdoors. They are trusted to use tools, such as saws and drills. The real impact of the programme hit me powerfully when we were asked to visit a school to run a session there, and I saw how different their behaviour needed to be in an indoor classroom setting. There is a saying about children being ‘school ready’ in terms of their emotional and social skills, and what I love about working with students outside is that the forest or the field is always ready for them – just as they are.” Nikki Bailey, Earth Trust Countryside Skills team volunteer

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