Ways to work with nature

29th September 2006 at 01:00
Making the connection between forests and wood products was the idea behind a special day for Perth primary schoolchildren.

First they visited the Scottish Woodfair at the Dewars Centre, showcasing dozens of exhibitors. Then they moved on to Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park, where crafts from rope making to chainsaw carving were being demonstrated.

"We're working with active schools co-ordinators to get children outdoors, engaging with their surroundings," explains Mike Flinn, chair of the Big Tree Country forest education initiative.

The project is a partnership between the Forestry Commission, Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and the council's economic development department.

On the Woodland Bus, which tours schools three times a year in two-week blocks, children learn about deciduous and evergreen trees, animals that live in the woods and their habitats.

Julian Brotus, who runs Brotus Rural Crafts, is demonstrating wood turning using a traditional lathe, pumping the pedal with his foot like an old-fashioned sewing machine, as he shows P4s and P5s from Balbeggie Primary how to use a chisel to shape a chair leg.

Chainsaw sculptor Andy MacLachlan is carving intricate wooden animals and Robbie Gordon, of the Countryside Trust, is demonstrating traditional rope and broom making, while educating the children about nettles.

"You think they're nasty, stinging nettles, but you can eat them, you can make soup and beer with them, you can make really strong rope with them I,"

he says.

As he talks, he weaves the rope with a twist of his wrist. "It's not hard or stingy. Feel how soft it is," he says. "Once you twist it, you can make nettle fibre. Instead of being a very coarse, jaggy fibre, it's very soft and very strong.

"You can use any fibre: tree bark, nettles, straw."

Mr Gordon shows the children how to make a skipping rope. The boys and girls take turns using a twisted hook tool called a thra crook to create rope from the fibre.

"It's good to let them see some traditional crafts," says their teacher, Maria Laburn. "Hands-on learning is much better than a book; they retain it much better. They're having a whale of a day."

An engrossed audience is learning how to make a broomstick. Mr Gordon cuts a handle from hazel and uses broom for the brush, although birch and heather also work well.

"You pull a bunch of twigs very tightly together and tie it with string or wire, then sharpen the handle and drive it through the middle, which makes it even tighter," he explains.

Shannon Abbot and Shannen Stewart, P7 pupils at St Ninian's Primary, are busy learning how to make dream catchers, woven nets that filter dreams, according to legend. Willow weaver Jane Wilkinson, who makes garden furniture, baskets, urns and fences, tells the girls about willow.

"It's strong and bendy but only when it's wet," she explains. "You can't work with it when it's dry because it's not flexible.

"It likes to grow in wet places. Lots of birds, butterflies, moths are associated with willow."

Angela Hughes, an outreach officer for Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust, is project manager of the Woodland Bus.

"Not only is it promoting forest industry but we're generating interest in the forest," she says.


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