UK na­tional trust crit­i­cized for evict­ing for­est school from its woods

Iran Daily - - Cultural Heritage & Environment -

“Set your chil­dren free,” urges the Na­tional Trust’s cam­paign to get UK chil­dren out­doors.

“Let them feel the wind in their hair, smell food cook­ing on an open fire, track wild an­i­mals and eat a juicy ap­ple straight from the tree.”

But young chil­dren will no longer taste such free­doms in Na­tional Trust woods in Kent af­ter a for­est school judged ‘out­stand­ing’ by Of­sted was evicted by the char­ity, the­guardian.com re­ported.

For­est Kin­der­garten, an in­no­va­tive out­door nurs­ery es­tab­lished in 2014, will close its doors at Toys Hill this half-term, af­ter the Trust ruled that its daily class of 14 young chil­dren were im­per­il­ing an­cient trees and dis­turb­ing wildlife.

The nurs­ery’s an­nual re­newal of its li­cense to op­er­ate in woods des­ig­nated a ‘site of spe­cial sci­en­tific in­ter­est’ (SSSI) has been re­fused by Trust man­agers, de­spite ap­peals by par­ents and chil­dren to the Trust and its pres­i­dent, Prince Charles.

Ac­cord­ing to For­est Kin­der­garten founder Caro­line Watts, she and her chil­dren were given per­mis­sion by the Trust to roam be­yond a small base-camp area. Watts paid up­wards of £1,500 for an an­nual Na­tional Trust li­cense to run her nurs­ery, which pro­vided govern­ment-funded free places for preschool-age chil­dren. De­spite no for­mal fa­cil­i­ties, Of­sted in­spec­tors ruled the nurs­ery was ‘out­stand­ing’.

“We have all been touched by the beauty of the an­cient beech trees at Toys Hill, the far reach­ing views which of­ten made the chil­dren look, stop and won­der, the fallen trees which the chil­dren named ‘the play­ground’, and the bat tower where they learned about the nu­mer­ous types of bats,” said Watts.

“Since 2014 our chil­dren have ben­e­fit­ted im­mea­sur­ably from play­ing and learn­ing in these spe­cial Na­tional Trust wood­lands. We teach the chil­dren to re­spect the flora and fauna, and their di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence of it is ex­actly what will help them be­come adults who care about pre­serv­ing it.”

One par­ent, Liz Sim­mons, said her two sons at­tend­ing the school un­der­took ex­actly the ac­tiv­i­ties pro­moted by the Trust’s ‘50 things to do be­fore you’re 11¾’ cam­paign. In an ap­peal to the Trust’s di­rec­tor-gen­eral, Hi­lary Mcgrady, she said: “I find it dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that a group of 15 or so pre-school­ers has done much, if any, dam­age to the wood­land which ex­tends to over 200 acres, only a frac­tion of which is used by the kin­der­garten group.”

One For­est Kin­der­garten vet­eran, Joe Carter, six, wrote his first ever let­ter in protest at the de­ci­sion.

“Please let us stay — you don’t un­der­stand,” he told the Trust.

In an­other ap­peal to the Trust, par­ents Richard and Sarah Muri­son wrote how their son had de­vel­oped a great love for all wood­lands, could iden­tify tree and fungi species and was care­ful not to tram­ple blue­bells.

“He and his peers at for­est school are the fu­ture gen­er­a­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who have at a young age de­vel­oped an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the world around them,” they said.

“To hear that this fab­u­lous learn­ing op­por­tu­nity is in jeop­ardy makes us re­ally sad and quite dis­il­lu­sioned with what ex­actly the Na­tional Trust stands for.”

PHIL WILLS/ALAMY

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