Happy International Day of Forests 2024

Today we are celebrating International Day of Forests, looking at the positive impact Forest Schools are having on people and the planet. CIWEM junior president Emily Clarke tells us more.

The focus of this year’s World Forest Day is Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World, looking at technological innovations and advancements helping to combat global deforestation.

Global deforestation is a huge problem, where annually 10 million hectares are lost to deforestation (roughly the size of 14 million football pitches). And a further 70 million hectares are impacted by our changing climate, which is causing more frequent fires across the world.

Innovations are needed for early warning systems, sustainable commodity production, and to empower Indigenous Peoples through land mapping and access to climate finance. Recent advancements have revolutionised forest monitoring, providing an effective way for countries to track and report on their forests.

Through transparent and innovative forest monitoring, a total of 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide forest emission reductions or enhancements have been reported to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Why do we need to protect forests?

  • Forested watersheds and wetlands provide 75 per cent of the world’s accessible freshwater.
  • Forests contain over half of the global carbon stock in soils and vegetation.
  • Forests are home to 80 per cent of all known amphibian species.
  • The forest sector generates jobs for at least 33 million people.
  • Forests are vital for sustaining food production.
(Data sourced from The United Nations)

How can Forest School’s help

Across the world, access to forests and nature has been in decline. But the Forest School movement aims to help protect our forests, by engaging the next generation in how to look after and learn from these precious environments.

The Forest School concept began in Scandinavia, where open-air culture is a way of life, and it first came to the UK in 1993. They provide a safe environment for children to explore, discover and connect with the natural world, learning at their own pace. And importantly, they offer and enable learners to take supported risks which are appropriate to the context of the local environment and those involved.

They can inspire a deep-rooted connection with nature and their local environment and help children to learn about their role in, and impact on, the natural world. They also help children to develop important skills in caring for and nurturing the environment.

Research has shown that children participating in Forest Schools have greater self-esteem, confidence, and resilience, with enhanced well-being and creativity. They also help learners to develop socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually. Forest Schools run regardless of the weather and participants are encouraged to come prepared for rain, snow, or shine!

Typical activities in a Forest School include:

  • exploring the space across the different seasons,
  • identifying the various fauna and flora,
  • learning how to safely build and maintain campfires,
  • learning how to safely cook on campfires,
  • woodwork activities including den building,
  • other outdoor games and activities.

The schools are run by qualified Forest School practitioners, who constantly maintain and develop their professional practice, learning styles and skills. There are now thousands of trained practitioners around the world, developing children’s learning experiences in nature. A quality Forest School has learner-led outcomes, aims and objectives and will be led by qualified and reflective leaders.

With a nod to Neurodiversity Celebration Week (18 – 24 March 2024) – research has proven that Forest Schools offer a unique environment which is better suited to non-academic learners. This type of experiential education is particularly well suited to neurodivergent children, who are more likely to find typical academic classroom settings difficult to comply with. The Forest School environment provides a peaceful sensory environment and research has shown that time spent in nature helps to improve concentration in neurodivergent individuals.

The Forest School ideology fits perfectly with our Presidential Theme: connecting a community inclusive and accessible for all. Having the next generation grow with and better understand the natural environment will assist our sector in tackling the dual challenges of climate change and ecological emergencies. I hope that many children will go on to choose our sector to work in, helping to bring about the much-needed change, action, and solutions required.

Learn more about this movement and find your nearest Forest School provider with the Forest School Association (FSA).

The Forest School Association (FSA) is the UK Professional Body for Forest Schools, created to maintain the core principles and standards of Forest School education, providing advice and guidance to its members, and speaking as a unified voice for the Forest School community.

You can participate in the celebration of World Forest Day by joining the conversation online using #ForestDay.

Emily Clarke FCIWEM C.WEM is a Principal Flood and Coastal Consultant at Binnies and CIWEM's Junior President

This article was first published on Thursday 21 March 2024.

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