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Manchester Environmental Education Network

Heald Place Primary School - Treemarkable project

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MEEN had been working with the new School Council just prior to the Treemarkable project. The team had learnt about the causes, impacts and solutions of the climate emergency and run a stall at the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Green Summit engaging with the public on the issues.

They had also contributed to Oxfam’s appeal for young people to be represented at the COP27 Summit through a card writing project to ensure that every negotiator received a message from a young person. Unsurprisingly their responses were already focused on trees.

This meant that when the Treemarkable project commenced they already had a clear understanding of how trees sustain the biosphere. However, the pupils were not all that familiar with specific types of trees, so the team began a process of getting to know the trees in the school grounds.

One of our first activities was to discover and then replenish a group of trees which had been planted by a previous cohort of pupils in the school grounds. Not all the tree whips had survived their first year so we filled the gaps.

During this process the pupils heard the various names of trees and began to be able to identify them from examining their Winter twigs and buds, their leaf shape, fruits and bark. Tree identification is an important skill for learning about tree care and as a part of this process, they created a map showing where trees were situated in the school. We then befriended individual trees which the pupils identified, gave personal names and hugged. Tree hugging proved to be a hit!

Another popular learning activity involved playing MEEN’s game called ‘Life of an oak tree’. Created with this project in mind the game encourages players to understand the kinds of issues faced by trees at different times of year. The players roll dice and land on spaces which contain information which support or inhibit tree growth. Whoever makes it through a whole year first is declared a winner.

The headteacher, Mr Kapachee, also led a walk for the School Council around the grounds showing the pupils the new lake and forest school area. It was during this session that it was suggested that the Treemarkable project might be able to plant a hedge along one side of the school field. The idea was to provide a green boundary as a buffer zone for the houses along the periphery of the field.

In the meantime, members of the team were asked to run a stall at the Manchester City Council ‘Our Year’ celebration event where they chose to run an activity which would help people identify trees using leaves, twigs and seeds. The pupils ran the activity for pupils and adults, including a local councillor, challenging everyone to put the right item with the right tree.

Having sourced 175 free tree whips from City of Trees a date was set for the hedge planting. MEEN was busy the whole day with groups of pupils from across the school taking it in turns to learn what a hedge is and how to plant one.  We had lots of hawthorns, hazels, field maples and crab apple whips, seven hornbeams and guelder rose and even three hollies to put in the ground. The last group of the day was the School Council who helped plant the remaining whips by filling any gaps, replanting trees that had not been properly set into their new home and watering them in.

Treemarkable was intended to help the pupils not just learn how to plant trees, but also how to identify what extra care trees might need. To tackle this MEEN ran a risk assessment and contacted the school about bringing in equipment such as secateurs and a saw, so that the pupils could learn how to use them and attend to any damaged, dead or diseased wood.

In one session the pupils were tasked with finding small broken branches or dead wood which they carefully removed from the trees using secateurs. In another session the pupils were shown how to safely use a saw before each member of the team, having examined the trees for damaged or diseased limbs, took turns with the saw to remove the damaged branches. Everyone managed to safely prune back and remove branches, particularly the many hazels that had been damaged during the re-design of their outdoor area.

As Spring turned to Summer MEEN also had access to a few larger potted hedge plants that needed a new home. Once more the team worked hard planting the hedglings in any obvious gaps.

MEEN had also been contacted by the Manchester Metropolitan University about their 2023 Sustainability Fair asking if we were working with schools that might want to contribute to the event. We asked whether two of the school groups working on the Treemarkable project could be admitted as keynote speakers and the answer was yes. The idea was to run a stall encouraging people to play ‘The life of the oak’ as a part of the fair and to present all the work they had done to the conference.

On the day the team gave a fantastic presentation and I have inserted several of the slides they produced throughout this case study. Their contribution was very well received and they also adeptly fielded a range of interesting questions about tree care and tree friends.

Having also been responsible for looking after the MEEN stall, as well as visiting everyone else’s stalls, the pupils needed a lunchbreak outside where they found several large trees to hug!

The project was also moving into a new phase at this point with Ryan Woods, a PhD student from the University of Manchester and soundscape artist, joining us , as someone keen to work with the team and the trees. Run over multiple sessions the pupils were at first asked to do some deep listening and mindfulness in the forest school area. They were also asked to make a record of the noises they heard in the school environment and to draw noises as they imagined them to appear visually.

They were also introduced to recording equipment and were asked to listen and to record the world around them. The participants heard the wider environmental noises, but also engaged with the sounds made by trees, or the sound of a leaf being rubbed, or of a hand tapping on a tree trunk.

Through increasing their intimacy with the trees they also noticed the differences in bark quality, shape and size, until at one session when they were asked to introduce each other to their chosen trees, they began to share ideas about each tree’s lived experiences.

The pupils were then asked to write a letter to the human race from the perspective of their chosen, named tree. Everyone went and sat down under the tree they had connected with and wrote what came to mind.

Here are a couple of sample letters:

The letters were re-read, edited by the pupils and then recorded by them to form a part of the soundscape which would be created by Ryan.

The team were also asked to participate in a MEEN workshop on the Treemarkable project as a part of a Youth Sustainability conference organised jointly with Connell College and Manchester City Council.  At this intergenerational event their presentation was delivered alongside MEEN, Ryan and City of Trees. Once MEEN had described the project the pupils gave their presentation and then, unknown to the pupils, MEEN read out one of the letters over one of the soundscapes that had been recorded in the school. It proved to be a good surprise. The team also ran a stall engaging with a range of different people who were challenged with tree identification and the ‘Life of an oak tree’ game.

In the afternoon they also enjoyed engaging in the banner making workshop producing lots of excellent posters and as one of their banners starkly stated:

In the final sessions before the Summer, we decided to do some maintenance work on the hedge. Firstly, the hedglings were being overgrown by nettles and secondly, it seemed a good time to mulch them with woodchip to help them survive.

This meant the pupils were involved in nettle removal whilst trying not to get stung. One strategy was to turn it into an opportunity to practice with the secateurs, with everyone taking it in turns to use them with careful oversight. Once an area of the hedge was cleared the pupils then barrowed the woodchip onto the site and learnt how to lay it around the whips to ensure the rotting wood enriched the soil.

The pupils clearly enjoyed barrowing and mulching whilst an eagle-eyed pupil spotted where a cherry tree had been damaged and had begun to ooze sap which had hardened a bit like a scab on a cut knee.

But what happens if the end of year performance happens to be playing a tree? With microphones attached to the trees the pupils carefully drummed on the trees working out various sound patterns which they could hear through headsets. They rehearsed their pieces before everyone had the opportunity to play their own human/tree soundscapes to their peers through a speaker.

As the academic year drew to a close the team learned that two or three of their tree friends were going to be cut down. This was deemed necessary to ensure that the emergency services could gain access to the school field if needed. So, at the beginning of the new school year, the team held a memorial to remember the fallen and to mark their passing they collected lots of tree seeds.

A new Treemarkable team for September 2023

Another group of pupils were brought together for the new academic year: their first task was to learn about tree identification before being tasked with running a stall at the Mayor’s 2023 Green Summit to share their knowledge of trees.

Their activities proved to be very popular with lots of conference attendees testing their tree identification skills with the children.

Back at school the pupils were also tasked with mulching the trees that previous groups had planted along the perimeter fence. The hedge the previous team had planted also needed more care as it was already getting overgrown. So yet more weeding and mulching was done.

The team also enjoyed playing MEEN’s Life of a Tree dice game with the pupils trying to live and grow as an oak tree for a full year whilst experiencing droughts, being mulched, growing beef steak fungus, even being chopped down and having to start the game again. They learned about fungal attacks, about jays planting oak trees and the impacts of storms, to mention a few things.

However, the tree planting season also returned and the new team were one of three groups of pupils who helped to plant another hedge to act as a barrier between the school field and the main road. On this occasion over a hundred tree whips were planted in one day whilst the older trees were hugged and the new trees well mulched.

Outside of school Ryan Woods had taken the soundscapes, which the pupils from the previous academic year had helped to create, and amalgamated them into a 20 minute recording and installation. The sound installation was played through a circle of eight speakers whilst in the centre there was a structure created from beech branches which provided perches for headphones. Each headset contained a different letter which the pupils had written on behalf of a tree and recorded.

The sound installation was first experienced at the University of Manchester, but was then also set up at a MEEN meeting celebrating everything to do with trees. Dendrophiles of all ages shared their tree stories and the work they do with trees whilst everyone was invited to enjoy the experience of the Grove of Children, the name Ryan had given to the sound art.

Despite the fact the pupils from Heald Place were unable to join us at the event their presence was heard and had a deep affect on many of the people who listened to their letters they had written on behalf of the trees. As part of the session attendees were asked to leave their own messages on leaves which they hung on the beech branches.

Back at school the new team were also invited to imagine being trees and to write letters to humans. They too produced some equally thoughtful responses. Here are a few samples: A group of papers with writing on them

The team were also asked to record them in a different medium. Being presented with ink made from alder cones, old fashioned nibbed pens and sustainable paper made from t-shirt off-cuts, the team rose to the challenge of writing sections of their letters using both traditional and new resources.

We also serendipitously found an article about the Green Man in the newspaper we were using on the tables – which led to a discussion on the symbol of the Green Man and why evergreen trees and branches are brought inside to decorate people’s home at the darkest time of the year.

The final week brought together new challenges and old favourites: they had asked to play the game Life of a Tree once more, which they enjoyed, but they were also invited to engage with new sorting games. Not only did they sort trees with their superpowers they were also tasked with identifying trees from their Winter shapes. This last exercise was particularly difficult and needed lots of clues to be finished – but with a few observational questions the task was completed.

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