Cambrian Wildwood or Coetir Anian is in the second year of the project’s Primary Schools programme. We have been working with six schools since September 2018: Penrhyncoch and Penllwyn near Aberystwyth and Maesyrhandir in Newtown started in the first year; Corris, Pennal and Bro Hyddgen in Machynlleth joined the programme in September 2019. Each group of pupils participates in a range of activities over three years.
In the autumn term the pupils learnt about the project to restore the upland habitats and about wildlife in general during sessions in school, and enjoyed a whole day visit to the wildwood site. Here, they went for an orientation walk to learn about the place and to meet our semi-wild horses; they participated in an outdoor maths session with Simon Ayres where they learnt about Fibonacci numbers in nature and their relationship with spirals; and they foraged for natural materials to create large mandalas on the ground with Holly Owen, an environmental artist.
For some children this was their first ever experience of being in such a remote and wild location. Some of the children had not been out of their home town before. They loved it! Later in the winter, Milly Jackdaw, and in the second year Clarissa Richards, visited the schools and sowed acorns with the pupils, one for each child. They will look after their oak seedlings for 2 years, returning to Bwlch Corog in their third year to plant their trees on site.
In summer term 2019 the pupils took part in a one-day creative art session which was led by Holly Owen and Coetir Anian’s Education Specialist Clarissa Richards. The aim was to create a timeline for Coetir Anian – how it looked in the first year and how it might look in 10 years and then 100 years. At the moment bracken is one of the dominant species on the site, so Holly brought in examples of bracken fronds for the pupils to use and create carefully observed pencil pictures. These were then cut out and glued onto a very long piece of paper.
For their drawings of how Coetir Anian might look in 10 years, the pupils played the role of ‘Nature Detectives,’ reading clues to find out about different plants and animals which may have settled there. They then created colour pencil drawings of these plants and animals and added them to the timeline.
When thinking about how Coetir Anian may look in 100 years’ time, the pupils played detective again as well as taking part in discussions before drawing, with pastels this time, the animals and plants we hope will be established e.g. red squirrels, beavers and a wider variety of trees and plants. The pupils learnt about the importance of diversity in nature and the 100 years section of the timeline was bursting with colour and variety of fauna and flora! There was time for some nature connection games too and a chance to learn all about beavers with our beaver puppet.
At Pennal School in spring 2020, the children created murals of native trees with artist Elin Vaughan Crowley. This is described in another article Primary Schools Creative Project with a video of the creative work.
In their second year, the pupils visit the wildwood again to learn bushcraft skills. Last autumn they learnt about making camp fires, what makes good tinder and they all had a go at lighting a fire. Some of the children found this great fun, while others had to overcome their fear of fire. All of them gained confidence by being coached and then trusted to participate in a ‘dangerous’ activity.
It is a real joy to see the kids outside and having fun in a wild landscape. The sessions include enough unstructured time for free play so that they can interact with nature in their own way.
Most of them are attracted to water, playing together in the stream, or getting a great deal of enjoyment from an area of swamp. The teachers tell us that children who are unenthusiastic about engaging with education in school seem happier and more engaged with activities in this environment. And one head teacher asked if they could come back every week!