The Forest Education Network (FEN) is a forum set up to promote all types of forest education in England, run on a voluntary basis by those who work in and advocate for outdoor learning.
Dr Helena Pimlott-Wilson of the Department of Geography and Dr Janine Coates of the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences co-hosted the event, having worked with FEN for the past year as part of their forest school research.
The event showcased three research projects undertaken by Loughborough academics about forest schools, plant ecology and woodlands.
Dr Coates and Dr Pimlott-Wilson discussed findings from their project which involved primary school-aged children in the East Midlands; exploring how engagement in forest school provided a novel experience which allows children to learn through play, promoting social, physical and emotional development as well as team working and co-operation abilities.
The research also raised questions about learning in different settings and equity in educational provision.
Plant ecologist Dr Jonathan Millett presented research on how plants and ecosystems respond to variation in the environment, demonstrating how inquisitiveness about the natural world, asking simple questions, and being creative about possible answers can lead to scientific discovery.
Professor Darren Smith and Dr Sarah Mills in the Department of Geography explored the ways in which private woodlands are being commodified and purchased by affluent families with children. The discussion focused on the motives for buying woodlands to enable play and engagement with nature.
In addition to the research presentations, there were talks and participatory activities led by the National Forest and Muddy Puddles, as well as the Forest Education Network’s AGM. A number of organisations hosted stalls at the event, promoting outdoor initiatives and resources for forest school practitioners.
Speaking about the event, Dr Coates said: “It was a real success, with 80 outdoor learning practitioners attending from across the region. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback - it was a useful forum for sharing experiences and learning from each other.”
Dr Pimlott-Wilson added: “It was a great opportunity to welcome the forest education community to the University, sharing our knowledge and facilities. We’re really pleased to have had the opportunity to celebrate the Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire Forest Education Networks’ anniversary with them.”