A County Durham farmer is leading the field in providing young people with the chance to learn about life down on the farm.
Ian Dods (right) with Maeve Nattrass (Country Trust) and Oakfields College staff.jpg (Ian Dods (right) with Maeve Nattrass (Country Trust) and Oakfields College staff.
Ian Dods, who runs Ulnaby Hall Farm at High Coniscliffe, is so passionate about showing local youngsters what happens on the farm that he has recently converted a disused cart shed into an all-weather classroom and meeting room.
The first group to use the new facility were GSCE Land Management & Animal Husbandry students from Oakfields Community College in Middlesbrough. A field trip to see Ian’s work at Ulnaby Hall Farm proved to be the perfect way for students to find out about a potential career in farming and learn about the role that farmers play in both food production and the protection of the natural environment. Oakfields Community College is the only educational centre in the Tees Valley offering the GSCE Land Management & Animal Husbandry course.
Around 25 education groups already visit the farm each year and with the opening of the new classroom Ian is hoping that the number will more than double. Thanks to funding from a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, one of Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship schemes, Ian can provide educational visits free of charge.
Agri-environment schemes, such as HLS, are one of the main providers of outdoor environmental learning for schoolchildren in England, with almost 1,100 farmers currently offering free visits as a result of their participation in the schemes.
Ian always makes time in his busy farming day to meet visiting groups and give the youngsters a first-hand insight into the work of a farmer. The students from Oakfields Community College took a tour of the farm and sampled some of the food that is produced there. Ulnaby Hall Farm is a mixed farm and ideal for finding out more about the wide range of food that farmers produce. As well as rearing sheep, Belted Galloway cattle, Tamworth pigs and other traditional breeds, there are 220 acres of cereals and 100 acres of potatoes. Produce from the farm is sold in the Ulnaby Hall Farm shop, which along with a tea room, employs seven people and draws customers from throughout the North East.
Ian Dods said: “Until this year we’ve used our old barn as a makeshift classroom but it was very cold and draughty. I hope that by opening the new purpose-designed classroom we can run even better visits and welcome even more schools and colleges to find out about our work at Ulnably Hall.
“We’ve been running educational visits at the farm for several years and Natural England’s HLS educational access funding has helped us by supporting these visits so that we can offer them to schools for free. It’s great to be able to show young people around the farm and to help them experience that connection between themselves, their food and the countryside.”
Mrs Deborah Coning, Course tutor at Oakfields Community College said: “The students had a great day on the farm and learnt a lot by being able to talk to Mr Dods about his work and see what happens on a farm at first hand. Many of our students are interested in a career in the farming industry and it was a chance to find out exactly what is involved. As well as learning how their food is produced, the students also discovered more about the important role that farmers have as custodians of the countryside.”
The evidence of the demand for more educational visits to farms is clear - 97% of teachers believe it’s important for pupils to learn about the countryside in the National Curriculum and 98% believe the countryside could play a greater role in cross–curricular learning. Yet less than half of all children aged between 5-16 yrs went on a school trip to the countryside in 2008.
Adrian Vass, Natural England North East Area Manager, added: ‘‘Opening your farm up to groups as an educational resource is a great opportunity for children to experience life on a farm, learn about wildlife, where their food comes from and how the land is managed. These visits can make a real difference, especially for children from urban areas like the Tees Valley, who might not otherwise have the chance to visit the countryside or see how a working farm operates.”
The HLS scheme also helps with the conservation of local wildlife and Ulnaby Hall Farm can boast a wide range of environmental improvements, including the installation of bird and bat boxes, the planting of new hedgerows and creation of new ponds. Since joining the HLS scheme five years ago, Mr Dods has noticed an increase in the number of hares and other wildlife on his land.
For further information about Natural England and Environmental Stewardship click on www.naturalengland.org.uk. For more information about Ulnaby Hall Farm visit www.medievalulnaby.co.uk
Running the educational side of a working farm is very much a team effort, says Ian. “I’m grateful to all the members of staff who work with Donna O’Sullivan and Melissa Lush in the farm shop for their help during the school visits. We’re also fortunate to have the assistance of Maeve Nattrass who helps with the visits, and the support of David Thompson of the Country Trust. The Trust aims to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities through showing the working countryside to children and does great work linking schools with farms.”
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