Virtual field trips to inspire the next generation of forest workers

Virtual field trips to inspire the next generation of forest workers

The Forestry Commission is working with Google Expeditions to take schoolchildren on virtual tours of working forests.

The Commission, which celebrated its centenary in 2019, is using the immersive platform to inform the next generation about sustainable timber production, the importance of plant health and how woodlands are designed to create habitats for wildlife.

The free Expeditions were made using a 360 degree camera and can be viewed on mobile devices and tablets. Users can heighten their experience with a virtual reality (VR) headset.

Pupils will visit a tree nursery to find out which species could make up forests of the future. They will explore machines used in forestry, study woodland habitats and wildlife, and learn about the importance of trees in the face of the climate emergency.

Students will also hear from people working in the forest about a range of possible careers. They include forest planners, ecologists, arborists, tree health officers and machine operators.

The 360 degree panoramas and 3D images are controlled by a tablet, which the teacher can use to point out interesting sights along the way.

Sarah Wood, Learning Manager at Forestry England, which looks after the nation’s 1,500 forests, said,

“We want to inspire the next generation about our work and the variety of career opportunities in the forest.

“These new tools will also help to inform how forestry has huge benefits for both people and wildlife. It is too often assumed that felling trees in any way is damaging for nature, which is simply untrue.

“As well as providing a renewable resource and jobs in our communities, sustainable forest management provides wildlife with the diverse habitats it needs to thrive.”

Year 2 students at Hannah Moore Primary School in Bristol were recently treated to a test run of the forest expeditions. Their teacher Gen Ellison-Smith, said,

“The students absolutely loved using the virtual reality headsets and learning all about the forest. After the class, they wouldn’t stop talking about the different jobs they wanted to have. I’ll definitely be using these tools with other classes in the future.”

The Forestry Commission hopes the classroom experiences will be followed up by educational field trips that could inspire pupils thinking about their futures.

PK Khaira-Creswell, Director of the Forestry Commission centenary programme, said,

“To tackle the climate and ecological crises, we need to continue growing our talented workforce.

“Young people are so passionate about the natural world. By giving them behind the scenes access to the forest, we hope to inspire some of them to seek careers in forestry and related industries.”

Across the UK, approximately 16 thousand people work in forestry and 27 thousand in primary wood processing, which includes sawmilling, panels, pulp and paper. Forests also help to provide thousands of jobs in other industries including leisure and tourism.

Google Expeditions are used by over a million students around the world, enabling teachers to take students on virtual trips to museums, historical landmarks and outer space.

Jen Holland, Program Manager, Google Expeditions, said,

"Expeditions is a powerful learning tool. It provides a unique opportunity for supplemental learning by giving students new ways of exploring the concepts and places they are studying.

“We've been thrilled to see teachers use Expeditions to bring abstract concepts to life and provide students with a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom, infusing learning with excitement and fun." 

The first two Forestry Commission Expeditions are called Working with trees in England’s forests and Timber production in England’s forests. More Expeditions, created in Forestry England forests, will be added this year.

To view the Forestry Commission Expeditions, download the Google Expeditions app to get started. The tours are free and can be accessed via the app from 14 January.

Note to editors

The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of England’s woodlands. It celebrated 100 years of forestry in 2019 with a programme of engagement to inspire people to visit and help protect England’s forests.

Forestry England manages and cares for 1,500 woods and forests for the nation, with over 230 million visits per year. As England’s largest land manager, it shapes landscapes for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and businesses to grow. Forestry England has around 1,000 staff, 20,000 volunteers and 80,000 members.

Forest Research is Great Britain’s principal organisation for forestry and tree-related research and is internationally renowned for the provision of evidence and scientific services in support of sustainable forestry. Forest Research works for and with many Government departments, all the devolved administrations, forestry and land management stakeholders, environmental NGO’s, the European Union and other international partners.

Google Expeditions is an immersive learning app that allows teachers and students to explore through virtual and augmented reality content. 

Expeditions is a free app available on Android and iOS that allows users to explore on their own using self-guided mode, or teachers can choose to lead a trip with their students through a virtual reality or augmented reality tour by choosing what content they’re viewing and by pointing out specific points of interest along the way. Teachers are able to pause trips to get the class’ attention and let students freely explore on their own.  

For more information, please contact:

Harry Shepherd - Forestry Commission
t: 0300 067 4363

Images can be downloaded here: