The Prince and Princess of Wales got back to nature today, exploring forest dens and whittling wood at an outdoor learning centre on a visit to Hereford. William and Kate joined children and staff at Madley Primary School’s Forest School, where outdoor learning is prioritised to boost children's physical and mental wellbeing.
The Prince donned safety glasses and gloves to saw through a log, held steady by the Princess whose right hand was still bandaged from a trampolining injury. "Is William doing it right?" she asked the youngsters, who told her he was. She politely declined the offer of gloves for herself, saying: "I can't even put that on because I've got two fingers stuck together."
The heir to the throne also tried his hand at whittling, taking tips from Jake, 10, on how to use the knife. Admiring a stick Jake had worked on, he said: "Is this yours? It's brilliant."
Headteacher Lee Batstone explained that children burn the names of reception children onto the sticks back at school and they use them as part of their registration process each day. New starters and their parents also receive wooden heart-shaped discs with the school motto "Be the best you can be", which are placed in their hands and kept throughout their time at the school.
William and Kate were presented with three to take back home for Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis by Lucy and Tomas, both 10, along with three books on mindfulness.The royal couple also joined pupils under a canopy made from a parachute where they were making apple, cinnamon and sugar skewers to toast on a fire. "It's like a healthy marshmallow," said Kate. "It always tastes so much better whenever you cook something on the fire.
"I've seen 1,000 marshmallows around the fire but I've never seen a sugar-dipped apple. I'm going to try this with my kids." "It smells delicious," added William.
She was told children learn how to start and maintain the fire from Year 6. "These are really good skills to learn, to be able to keep warm, to feed yourselves," said the Princess. "Is it nice learning here? It’s so peaceful, isn’t it? I could stay here all afternoon."
All pupils attend the outdoor school at least once a week and learn national curriculum subjects along with awareness of the environment, conservation and woodland management. The sessions include time in a mindfulness circle where the canopy overhead forms the shape of a heart and hide and seek during playtime.
The school, which has five fully trained forest school leaders, is partnered with the Duchy of Cornwall, which provided it with the woodland site at Brampton Hill Wood 12 years ago. It is the brainchild of headmaster Gareth Batstone and Geraint Richards, Duchy Head Forester. Children learn about building things from natural materials and how to use knives and equipment safely and correctly.
Prince William inherited the Duchy of Cornwall when he became Duke of Cornwall on the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Valued at more than £1 billion, the estate covers 23 counties in England and Wales, including large holdings in Herefordshire.
William and Kate were given several books for their children to share. The Prince seemed particularly taken by one called The Last Tree, by Luke Adam Hawker. Others included The Circles All Around Us, by Brad Montague and Kindness Grows by Britta Teckentrup.
"Thank you, they love reading," said Kate. "Actually, it’s a great way to stay learning about the environment." Told the children were all in Year 6, she added: "George is in the same year as you guys, he's year 6."
The children, who had only been told about the royal visit 90 minutes earlier, then showed the couple around. William and Kate spoke to the school's eco reps, who wear a green polo shirt instead of their usual uniform. They told the couple about the wildlife living there, including deer and badgers, spotted at night on a badger cam. Told they also did litter-picking activities, the Princess replied: "We do a lot of that at home."
William and Kate were impressed by various shelters built from branches, mud and tarpaulin and Kate climbed inside one to have a closer look. "Well done you, it's fantastic," she told Harry and Ollie, both 10, and Ethan, 11.
Headteacher Lee pointed out another that was built by a former pupil who was brought up in care and who struggled to manage his emotions before attending the forest school, telling the couple that the had been able to open up about his mental health issues while in the woodland.
The Duchy of Cornwall is thought to view Madley School Forest School as a blueprint for others to potentially be created on Duchy land in future and as they left, William told the group: "We need more schools like this. How good would it be for more schools to have access to places like this?"
Speaking afterwards, headteacher Lee said the visit had been "really positive," adding: "I think through the children, they got a real understanding and a real sense of how this works, connects together. Hopefully the next stage is to open this up to lots of children and schools using other sites so that all children can experience this." Year 6 teacher Louise Lacey said of the royal visit: "This has given the children memories that will last a lifetime."