Woodland Trust adds its voice to calls for environmental education reform

A first-of-its-kind report from the Woodland Trust on the state of the UK’s woods and trees is calling for key changes in environmental education, including its inclusion in “core teaching curricula”, the allocation of guaranteed time for outdoor learning and the provision of nature areas as part of all new school builds.

The Woodland Trust’s State of the UK’s Woods and Trees 2021 report claims to be “the first to present important facts and trends focusing predominantly on native woods and trees, and trees in towns and cities.” It says that, although woodland cover is increasing, woodland wildlife is decreasing and “[n]ot nearly enough is being done” to protect and expand our woods and trees.

The report makes clear the importance of woods and trees in promoting a sustainable future: “They lock up carbon to fight climate change, improve our health, wellbeing and education, reduce pollution and flooding, and support people, wildlife and livestock.”

Clive Anderson, who is president of the Woodland Trust, reinforces the point in his foreword:

We are on the edge of a new era of interdependency with trees and woods. The role of trees in fighting climate change is now well understood. The challenge is to find the space that trees need to expand and thrive across our nation. As they grow, the roots, leaves, trunks and branches of trees store carbon and, in doing so, they protect us from ourselves.

Clive Anderson, from the foreword to the Woodland Trust report

The report also details the excellent work that the Woodland Trust does with schools:

  • It has engaged with over 70% of all UK schools
  • Over 40% of all UK schools are registered on their Green Tree Schools Award
  • Around 23% of all UK schools have applied for one or more free tree packs from the Woodland Trust since 2017
  • Trees planted by schools and community groups in 2019 made up 27% of all the trees planted through the Woodland Trust in that year

The Woodland Trust report identifies four reforms it wants to see introduced to improve children’s learning about the environment and nature:

  • Changes to curricula: core teaching curricula should incorporate learning about the UK’s woods and trees, to better connect young people with the natural world and improve their physical, mental and social wellbeing
  • Provision for outdoor learning: a six-week (minimum) entitlement to an outdoor learning experience (for example the Green Tree Schools Award or Forest School) for all primary-aged children across the UK
  • Nature in school grounds: all new school builds should include an outdoor area with trees and woodland areas either in, or in close proximity to school, and accessible by the school and local community
  • Funding: government and other funding is required to support the environmental education of the next generation

The Woodland Trust is clear about why reform is urgently needed: “As children and young people are our decision makers of the future, it is particularly important that they learn how to care for and protect the environment.” The trust also makes the point that children who learn about woods and trees “are much more likely to grow up to be environmentally responsible adults”.

You can read the full report by clicking here. You can also access the report via our Documents page, which is a growing collection of information and reports relating to life-based learning and primary education more generally.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of children learning about the environment and nature more generally as part of a fully rounded, life-based curriculum. Our Plant Life theme — one of nine themes that provide a life-based framework and focus for the primary curriculum — aims to ensure that children learn and adopt the skills, values and practices that will enable them to live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

We posted on this site recently about the opportunity presented by the forthcoming COP26 conference on climate change to press the reset button on our understanding of the importance of — and relationship with — nature and plant life:

“A truly imaginative approach to COP26 will put education at the heart of its legacy planning, looking again at what we are teaching our children so that environmental education isn’t just another box-ticking bolt-on, achieved via a few science lessons and an awareness-raising day once or twice a year, but an integral part of the curriculum.”

More About Nature Education

Image at the head of this article by Marc B from Pixabay.

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