Students embrace nature in Clare Castle Country Park study programme

Students from Stour Valley Community School join countryside expert Neil Catchpole (left) to do some dead hedging at Clare Castle Country Park
Students from Stour Valley Community School join countryside expert Neil Catchpole (left) to do some dead hedging at Clare Castle Country Park

Year 10 students at Stour Valley Community School in Clare have been getting closer to nature through a five month programme of study in Clare Castle Country Park.

Team building, use of tools, crafting dead hedges and learning about outdoor cooking are just some of the things students have learned from Neil Catchpole, a former countryside officer who helps to manage the park.

Neil said: “It was a great pleasure, once again, to work with the staff and students from the school.

“Especially rewarding was the willow coppicing task when, after basic instruction, the students were able to organise themselves into a hard-working team, cutting the willow and bundling it up using the knots I had shown them, without any further help or interference from me.

“True team-work, showing how far their skills and co-operation with each other had developed over the course of  their time with us in the park.”

Clare Castle Country Park now has a programme of activities designed for students aged ten to 16 that helps them understand how the countryside needs to be managed in order to create habitats and enhance wildlife.

Each of the activities from river management to outdoor cooking are designed to ensure that students learn new skills and how to work together effectively as a team.

Kate Terry, Trustee of the Clare Castle Country Park said, “It’s all part of the process of getting out of the normal classroom environment and actively working within the countryside.

“Students have really benefitted from working with skilled countrymen like Neil Catchpole to understand how to manage the countryside sensitively and enjoy working collaboratively with others.”

Students began their study in the cold and darker days of February where they began to create dead hedge within the inner bailey trees.

In April, they learned how to coppice and use willow, creating a willow hut within the park and carving cooking utensils.

With the warmer weather in May, students learned how to cook outdoors on an open fire and enjoyed the fruits of their labour.

Claire Cutter who leads this study programme at Stour Valley Community School said: “Spending time with countrymen like Neil Catchpole really helps the students appreciate the skills and knowledge required to manage the countryside.”