In February, we profiled the non-profit organisation Bergwaldprojekt e.V. (STIHL supports the organisation Bergwaldprojekt e.V.). The organisation is committed to protecting, preserving and maintaining forests – with a special focus on mountain forests – and cultural landscapes.
As part of Bergwaldprojekt’s activities, kids in Germany can attend a so called “forest school”, where they can participate in projects and get to know more about protecting and maintaining forests. The kids spend a week making a hands-on contribution to nature conservation projects to encourage awareness of sustainability and biodiversity. They discuss their activities in class before and after their time in nature to help make their importance for the forest more apparent. Today, we would like to show you what a day at forest school is like for the kids from Käthe Kollwitz school (Bruchsal, Germany).
Hail and thunderstorms
The sun was just shining in Baden-Baden, Germany. But here along the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, 820 metres above sea level, the clouds hang low around mountain peaks. Just a ten-minute drive out of town, the temperature has already fallen by 8 degrees. It’s now a nippy 5 degrees Celsius – in the middle of May. Still, the schoolchildren from Bruchsal stand ready for duty in front of their forest cabins at 7.30 am. And they’re in a good mood: at least it’s not raining, in contrast to the last two days.
It’s Wednesday morning, halfway into their Bergwaldprojekt week. The school class and two teachers have been here in the forest since Sunday, spending their nights at the Bühlerhöhe cabins near Baden-Baden.
They spend their days working in the forest, planting trees, clearing undergrowth and performing other tasks to support nature conservation efforts. Before they head off for the day, the project manager calls the kids together for their morning meeting. He asks each of them to reflect on what they’ve experienced so far and discuss their personal high point and low point of the first two days. The schoolkids recount the rain, hail and thunderstorms they’ve had to endure. The view of the valley from the mountain, an exciting river crossing and the hot meals, on the other hand, were magical moments for them.
Volunteer help that makes a difference
Once the morning meeting is over, a group of vans transports them up the mountain. The air is even colder here, another 100 metres higher. But the clouds have parted, and the sun raises hopes of higher temperatures to come. Some 100 tiny silver firs are already lined up along the forest path, waiting to be planted in the hillside.
Bergwaldprojekt always works with local forestry authorities on all its projects. Its volunteers perform pressing tasks for which the authorities have too few employees. The project manager explains the day’s mission and divides the kids into teams of two.
One of them uses a mattock – a mixture of an axe and a shovel – to loosen the soil and dig a hole. The other one plants the tiny fir in the hole. It is essential that the sapling get as much mineral soil as possible, which is found under the forest’s topsoil. “A handful of mineral soil contains more living organisms than there are people on earth,” one project manager tells the kids. However, finding it in the hillside’s rocky subsoil is no easy task.
By midday, the group has worked its way down the hill in six rows. When it’s time for lunch, they have to go back up – some of them on all fours: that’s how steep the incline is. Once they’ve arrived, they all sit around the fire and eat, exhausted and in silence. But with every spoonful of stew, the noise level rises, and the colour starts returning to the kids’ faces. By the time desert is served, the atmosphere is once again relaxed and playful.
“The whole soil is full of rocks that I had to dig out first,” Anja says, while Natascha talks about how tiring it is to carry plants down the hillside. The kids show grit and determination and put their backs into their work in spite of adversity. With a sense of duty, they plant each fir two metres apart and dig holes deep into the soil. They want their work to pay off. The plants must be firmly planted in the ground to grow.
Without a doubt, a week in the forest makes nature conservation something schoolkids can see and feel for themselves. After all, learning by doing teaches lessons for life. “Spruce twigs are much harder than fir twigs,” Bettina says after fighting her way through a thicket of young spruces. That, too, is a truly hands-on nature experience.
Bergwaldprojekt offers volunteer opportunities for adults and families in addition to its week-long school projects. To find out more about Bergwaldprojekt, go to www.bergwaldprojekt.de.