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The Finest Festive Fir Christmas Tree Programme for Schools

Catherine Midgley, Education Manager at Countryside Learning Scotland, talks about the Finest Festive Fir Christmas Tree Programme for Schools, which runs in Dumfries and Galloway throughout December.

Catherine Midgley, Education Manager, Countryside Learning Scotland

Primary school pupils usually spend the run-up to the festive season making presents and learning about the Nativity story – instead of this, in December 2013 over 200 children visited Garrocher Christmas Tree Farm in Dumfries and Galloway and bookings are currently being taken for this year. A fantastic example of community engagement, the farm works closely with the charity Countryside Learning Scotland (CLS), a charity that improves countryside awareness for all through education to host and deliver a very successful outdoor learning experience to local school children.

Keen to inform the local community of what went on at his tree farm, the owner Michael Craig first contacted Catherine Midgley, the Education Manager at CLS, in October 2013. After several meetings and working in partnership with the farm employees, the Finest Festive Fir Outdoor Learning Programme evolved. Garrocher Farm, which employs nine people and is a member of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, now becomes an outdoor classroom for a week every December!

What's involved

The plantation manager, Martin MacKenzie, delivers a wealth of expertise to the school children participating in the programme. During the two hour event Martin guides the groups on a walking tour; the group visit the machinery shed and watch a cutting and netting demonstration, gain an insight into the layout of the farm and discuss the height and age of the trees close-up. Back under the shelter of the barn, Martin explains how the trees are managed and cared for; he shows the children how to recognise some of the main species of Fir, Pine and Spruce and touches on the biology of trees and the environmental benefits of growing them.

The knowledge the children gain is backed up with a range of activities that link pupils learning with the CfE. The children become tree detectives, they are challenged to complete a tree jigsaw and they are involved in an inter-schools competition to decorate a tree using objects found on the farm.

The interest from teaching staff in this initiative has been enormous. A total of 11 schools booked within two days in 2013 and several schools are already booked in for this term. As Catherine explains:

"Children experience a range of school visits during their time at Primary school, yet not one had visited a Christmas tree farm and it gave the children and their teachers a new perspective on countryside learning and an insight into local employment opportunities".

Michael is keen to point out from the outset of this initiative that ‘the emphasis at Garrocher Christmas Tree Farm is on growing top quality trees’ and, judging from the response of the teacher’s evaluation forms, the Finest Festive Fir programme is top quality too!

Contact us

If your school is within travelling distance of Creetown, then do contact Catherine Midgley on 07824697021 or by email catherine@countrysidelearningscotland.org.uk to book a visit this December. If your school is located near a Christmas tree farm, you could also contact the farm directly as we have expanded the programme to all areas of the country and they may offer the programme too! For further information about our organisation please visit: www.countrysidelearning.org. You can also find us on Twitter @CountrysideLS and Facebook ‘Countryside Learning Scotland’.