“The people who win these Awards are passionate and united by a desire to sustain, maintain, expand and enjoy our forests and woodland. It is fantastic to celebrate their contribution.”
So said Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, when presenting Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards – and never have truer words been spoken.
At first sight, the winners of the Awards look like a disparate bunch – from people working for forest management businesses to committed community woodlands activists and from large estate owners to pupils and teachers in small schools.
Yet it is a passion for trees and woodlands that binds them together, with the school’s award highlighting how important it is to stimulate that interest at an early age.
As teacher Tom Rawson said after St Mary’s School won the 2018 Schools Award:
“We are trying to promote a love of the natural environment so children value it and see it as a place to be enjoyed.
“We have children aged 2-13 involved in outdoor education. The youngest children visit the local woodland regularly. Later, they all do John Muir Explorer Award.
“We have built lots of bird boxes and we are building a bird hide from recycled wood, and we are also growing trees using a milk bottle nursery.”
St Mary’s also used its prize money to plant a centenary avenue of trees and is growing oak trees in a project to honour the fallen of World War One.
When Gavinburn Early Education and Learning Centre won the Schools Award in 2016, Deputy Head Jacqui O’Donnell explained how much it meant to the school:
“We are in a deprived area of Scotland, on the outskirts of Clydebank, with real poverty issues. It’s not an area you would associate with forestry.”
She continued: “We identified a wee space off the school driveway, cleared an area, put up fencing to make it safe and started to create our forest school. We planted willow, and three other kinds of tree, created areas for wildlife, put in bird feeders, made a minibeast area and a campfire space, put in a tyre swing and a teepee and one of the parents built stools from wood donated by a local business.
“The kids love it – they like the campfire, climbing the trees, forest games and making things. These kids live in a fast-moving digital world and don’t experience nature as much. We need to recognise and address that. The forest school enables them to explore the natural world and connect with it. It’s a great environment for friendship building and good for mental health.”
And it also helped the wider community: “It’s really brought the community together with parents and grandparents, shops and businesses all helping out. The prize money allowed us to extend into a new area and further involve the community, with some elderly people who are very isolated coming along.”
The use of the prize money at both St Mary’s and Gavinburn to support and recognise the older generation is fascinating – and shows how engaging young people in trees and woodlands can bring others along in a shared, multi-generational enterprise. Why does this happen? Because people love trees – and when they get to know more about trees and woods, they love them even more.
* Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards looks forward to your brilliant entries for 2019 – deadline is midnight as this Sunday (March 31st) becomes Monday. Full details here