As a teacher there were many topics I would teach simply because they had always been taught. There were resources in school for them already which made planning sequences of interesting simple. As a teacher, this could be a lifesaver, there was always so much to do! Something that reduced the workload, especially if it was a subject area I was not wholly knowledgeable about was key. And, as a primary school teacher, there is so much to teach that I simply could not be a font of knowledge for it all.
But, for all the pros of this, there was often a big con. It often meant I missed the opportunity to link the learning and the topic to the children’s lives and country. In this short series of blogs we are going to explore a range of topics taught in schools, from rainforests to oceans, endangered animals and habitat loss, dinosaurs to ancient history and the more recent Vikings, we will even have a look at how we can link some of the Global Development Goals to Scotland and the UK.
If we can intertwine these rich topics with our own country, imagine the connections we can make and even share some outdoor ideas to support them.
The first of these blogs is all about the rainforest!
When we think about the rainforest we generally think about moist broadleaf tropical rainforests like the Amazon, Queensland in Australia or the Coastal Rainforests of Eastern Africa. And there is absolutely a place for teaching about these fascinating places. But many of the issues they can face, we have experienced, and continue to, in our own temperate rainforest in UK.
The first time I realised there was a rainforest in the UK was when I was standing in it! I was lucky enough to be in Ariundle, in Argyll. Forest and Land Scotland describe this magical place as “It’s one of the richest surviving fragments of rainforests that are restricted to the Atlantic seaboard, otherwise, most notably in Ireland and Norway. Mosses, lichens and ferns grow in abundance in the lush coastal climate and the woods are home to rare and beautiful butterflies and dragonflies. The oak woodland is so important that it has been designated a National Nature Reserve.”
But this is not the only rainforest in the UK – we have many more! You can find them from West coast of Scotland1
North and west Wales
parts of Northern Ireland.
The Scottish rainforest area only has around 30,000 hectares remaining – this is about the size of Edinburgh (which really is not a big city)!
These amazing places face many of the same pressures as the tropical rainforests, from clearances to invasive species, farming to overuse of resources. Linking this can help children understand the issues are not just confined to some far off lands, but instead is happening in their own lands.
We are all aware of how the Amazon is being destroyed for grazing. Cattle ranching in the Amazon is the number one culprit of deforestation in virtually every Amazon country and it accounts for 80% of current deforestation2. In the UK, grazing is also a major threat, but in this case it is deer. This was highlighted in early 2023 when the John Muir Trust was granted a special license by NatureScot for an out-of-season cull. David Balharry, the Chief Executive at JMT said ““Because of severe grazing pressure from high deer numbers, young trees are failing to regenerate, and the woodland is now in an ‘unfavourable and declining’ condition. To ensure the survival of this internationally-important habitat, we have been granted authorisations by the Scottish Government agency NatureScot that will allow us to reduce deer numbers to a sustainable level.3. It is important to note that there was also opposition to this, The Assynt Crofters Trust (ACT) state that the culling will have a “direct, long-lasting and detrimental effect” on the community, including local deer stalking employment. Like the Amazon, both sides of the argument are complex.
Invasive species also impact rainforests. The Carnegie Institute studied the Hawaiian Rainforest back in 2008 and found that over half of all organisms are non-native, and approximately 120 plant species are considered highly invasive and the slow growing native trees are losing out to the faster growing invasives4. In the Amazon, the golden mussel (a freshwater mollusc) has been found. This is native to China and was accidentally introduced to South America in the 1990s. This species spreads quickly and can grow into huge masses which create obstacles, stopping other organisms from spreading and moving5.
Just like these other rainforests, the UK temperate rainforests also face difficulties with invasive species. In the UK, a major culprit is the rhododendron. This was introduced in around 1760 and is an aggressive coloniser that can greatly reduce the biodiversity of an area. It can be extremely difficult to remove – as anyone who has tried to remove it from their gardens will attest to6.
Many people in the UK have now heard of ash dieback. This is a fungi which affects the water transport system within a tree. Current research suggests that while some trees can survive this, as many as 70-80% of ash trees infected will die7. This disease is also impacting our rainforests in the UK. A quick google search will quickly highlight the vast array of tree disease impacting tropical rainforests around the world, and the under investment in investigating this.
Most of the UK rainforests are so small that they can not sustain themselves so groups like The Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest, Forestry and Land Scotland, Forestry England, Natural Resources Wales helps care for them. But, for their long-term security, people need to be aware that they exist and need our care. Teachers are in a key position to do this, and link this in a real and meaningful way with what is already being taught within schools.
Three outdoor ideas for the rainforest
1 – Measure the weather, link science and technology
You can make an anemometer – instructions can be found here https://loveoutdoorlearning.com/outdoor-learning/windy-day-stem/
or make a rain gauge, Community Playthings have great instructions on how to use a juice bottle to create one – https://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/making-a-rain-gauge
2 – Take a walk in a woodland and begin to identify the levels
in the rainforest: emergent, canopy, understory and forest floor
in the woodland: Tree canopy, understory, shrub layer, field layer (containing tall shrubs and low shrubs) and ground layer
Can children identify each layer? Not all parts of all woods will have all areas – keep that in mind!
3 – grow a plant we can eat – link science with health and wellbeing
It is so easy, and cheap, to grow vegetables. A packet of seeds can cost as little as 99p and have 100 or more seeds or even more. This gives you the opportunity to experiment and discover what plants need to live. And, if you grow something you can eat it then opens up so many more conversations. Radish, loose leaf lettuce, cress and broad beans are all really easy to grow from seed.
We would love to hear about what rainforest activities you do and how you link them to the UK rainforest.
1 – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/habitats/temperate-rainforest/#:~:text=What%20is%20temperate%20rainforest%3F,low%20annual%20variation%20in%20temperature.
2 – Nepstad, D.C., Stickler, C.M., Filho, B.S. and Merry, F., 2008. Interactions among Amazon land use, forests, and climate: prospects for a near-term forest tipping point. Philosophical transactions of the royal society B: biological sciences, 363(1498), pp.1737-1746.
3 – https://www.forestryjournal.co.uk/news/23246645.trust-defends-deer-culling-amid-atlantic-rainforest-regeneration/