Laws of the jungle

25th November 2005 at 00:00
Andrew Mourant joins pupils on a visit to the tropics in Cornwall, housed in the Eden Project's new education centre

You're stuck in the South American jungle and have to fend for yourself.

It's hostile territory infested with mosquitoes, where giant anacondas can swallow a man whole. How would you survive? What five items of essential kit would you take?

The job of Year 5 pupils at Bugle Primary School, near St Austell, is to find out. As Cornwall has no jungles, the Eden Project provides the next best thing: a steamy 27C habitat which, since it opened in 2001, has become a riot of tropical plants.

The class from Bugle gathers in Eden's new pound;15 million education centre, The Core, a building designed to make all-comers stop and think.

From a distance it resembles an armadillo. The timber roof is based on Fibonacci spirals, a pattern found in many natural forms, including pine cones and snail shells.

The Core is designed to be a model of sustainability. Its structural beams are made of Swiss spruce. Copper for the roof panels comes from one of the world's most sustainable mines in Utah.

The building is based on how plants grow. It incorporates a central trunk and canopy roof that shades the ground. It's home to Eden's schools programme and has replaced tents flapping in the wind.

Leading the jungle survival workshop, "Don't Forget Your Leech Socks", which has run since Eden opened, is schools development officer Pam Horton, who has experienced the tropical rainforest firsthand.

Pam starts by brandishing a pair of long blue leech socks. "Leeches get in anywhere, but these will help," she says. After an introductory session in which various essentials are listed - machete, torch, hammock, tarpaulin, mosquito net - the class troops off to the biome, the world's largest greenhouse. They must identify plants that offer sustenance and shelter.

"Read the labels," says Pam. "Some might look delicious but could be poisonous."

Although Bugle is on the doorstep of Eden, only half the class had visited before. Despite the crowds, there's a sense of wonderment at the palms and bamboos thrusting high into the air.

"We have quite a task getting kids interested in plants compared with animals," says Pam. But they come to life on discovering, for instance, you can obtain drinking water that might make the difference between life and death by drilling into the side of a bottle palm.

The closest encounter with wildlife is when one boy unfurls a dried-up leaf and finds ants scurrying inside. After an hour of exploration, it's time to return to The Core to mull over their discoveries. Everyone's survival manual contains lists of plants for food, drinking and shelter. It has been fun. "A really good experience. I know what to do and would feel safe,"

says Thomas Medhurst-Feeny.

Elliot Ashley-Hancock also "learned a lot about survival in the forest", taking care to set up base camp properly and ensuring hammocks are secured well above ground level.

Pam has run this workshop for five years. She's convinced of the educational benefits. "We've done an evaluation with the University of Exeter department of education and lifelong learning," she says. "The children produced personal meaning maps, where they were asked to draw the forest before and after their visit. Beforehand, they drew palms as lollipop trees and now they draw detailed leaves with drip tips."

Eden's philosophy, says John Ellison, head of formal learning, is to make education emotionally and spiritually enjoyable. "We want to look at learning styles and ways of processing information; how people can make changes for themselves, rather than be passive learners."

ON THE MAP

Eden Project Bodelva, St Austell, Cornwall PL24 2SG

Tel: 01726 811913

www.edenproject.com

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