Our Forest School site was vandalised for a second time over the weekend. It had already been vandalised the week before (we'd originally had a log circle in place with woven fences around the edges creating a cozy base camp - this had all been destroyed). The fences were gone, the logs had disappeared and there were the remains of what had been a very large fire, leaving a circle of ash in the middle of what had been our camp. It had also scorched the branches of a hornbeam tree that stands watch over our fire circle. Last week, when the children arrived at Forest School and discovered what had happened, they had felt a variety of strong emotions from sadness to downright anger. They had expressed and dealt with those emotions and had come out quite resilient. Logs were found and carried back to recreate the fire circle and the children were even inspired to build a second camp from scratch that they could call their own.
This week we'd returned to find our camp again severely disturbed. Logs were displaced or missing and others were charred, demonstrating there had been another large fire. But this time, we discovered more (and irreversible) damage that left us deeply saddened... We have six lovely trees that form almost a perfect circle around our camp. We have come to rely on them as integral parts of our camp - their branches provide us with hooks to hang up coats or craft projects for display and they are spaced just perfectly to tie up a tarp over the fire when it's raining. Two of these trees had their bark ripped off. One had been completely stripped of its bark from its base up to about one metre up the trunk. This is called 'ring-barking' and it greatly reduces the tree's chances of survival. The damage on our tree is so severe that it will now die.
My colleague, Sarah, took the opportunity to lead a discussion about the situation with the children and this gave us all the chance to express how we felt about it. We all agreed it was very sad and what bothered us most was that there was no good reason for stripping the bark off the tree. A pile of the bark strips were laying at its base. They had not even used the bark for anything! It was just mindless destruction.
The fact that the children felt upset that someone would come and destroy things in the wood for no reason was actually encouraging to me. The woods have come to mean something to them. Charlie even stated, “This needs some definite fortification!” demonstrating a desire to try to protect the area. Now, I recognise this doesn't mean the children will all grow up to become defenders of the environment, fighting deforestation one petition at a time. But it does demonstrate that they acknowledge that natural areas have value. And that's important! Even if, for now, it may be just for running around and playing in the woods...
A little while later, I asked Charlie, “What would you say to the people who did this if you saw them?” He replied quite passionately, “I would tell them to get their butt cheeks outta here and stop destroying our camp!” I let myself chuckle at this for a moment and then offered another perspective. I asked, “What about if they didn't realise it was so important to you? What if you explained to them what it meant to you? And then, if they wanted to use your camp again in the future, but promised not to wreck it, would you let them?” He replied, “Well yah. I'd say it's ok to use it, but just don't destroy it!” I thought to myself, “Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all applied that logic to our every day life...”
The whole experience leads me to reflect on how such a negative situation can actually result in quite a few positive outcomes (if you're the cloud with a silver lining type!). Though it is upsetting to have our camp taken apart and a dear tree doomed to its death, it has provided all of us with opportunities for learning. We've learned about the impact humans can have on the environment and how lack of awareness can lead to mindless destruction. We've learned about how a person's actions, even if it's not their intention to, can have a negative impact on others. We've learned about our own emotions, how we react to situations that upset us and about various ways to deal with those emotions. We've also experienced how bonds can form between people who've been through and overcome some form of adversity together and found ways to help and support each other as a community.
It also brings to mind how useful the experience has been in reinforcing the 'rules' or 'agreements' (as we prefer to call them) that we all acknowledge when starting a set of Forest School sessions with a group:
Look after yourselves... Look after each other... Look after the woods...