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LEAF is an annual programme following the school year, with registration closing in October. Registration for 2023 is now closed, but you can sign up to take part next year (starting August 2024). 

LEAF Themes are there to provide a focus or framework for your LEAF journey. Following a Theme is a requirement of the programme and most of your aims and actions should fall within your chosen Theme. The Themes are broad and can encompass a wide variety of aims and actions.

For each theme there are some suggested actions to get you started. However, the activities could be interpreted differently to cover other themes.

Further resources for each theme can be found on our LEAF resources webpage.

Forests and Biodiversity

All forest types from rural to urban and terrestrial to marine, offer a huge range of places for plants and animals to live. However, forests are increasingly threatened, largely as a result of human activity. We encourage you to investigate your local and national forests, discover why they are so important biologically and investigate ways of helping to protect them. We also encourage you to learn about the connection between different species within forest ecosystems (the ecological web).

Action ideas

  • Learn about seasonality in your local ecosystem. For example, find a tree or other plant and track it through the seasons, looking at what it looks like / does at different times of the year and what animals and other plants rely on it.
  • Create a biodiversity garden in your school grounds. This does not have to be big – you could create a Pocket Garden. Find out what plants are good for pollinators and other local wildlife and include those in your designs. Our Garden for Life resources will be very helpful for this.
  • Choose a native ecosystem, plant or animal, learn more about it and get involved with groups who are advocating for their protection. Some examples include the temperate rainforests on our west coast and Scottish forest wildlife such as pine martensred squirrels and capercaillies.

Forests and Climate

Forests are by far the greatest CO2 cleansers we have on Earth. There are two ways of reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere: emit less CO2 and remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it. Trees help in both! We encourage you to investigate the role of forests in climate change, including as carbon storage facilities and the importance of reforestation. In addition, we encourage you to engage in activities to create more carbon sinks.

Action ideas

  • Record season changes in local plants and animals (e.g. first buds opening). Turn this into a long term record that future LEAF members can use to monitor how climate change is affecting your local plants and animals. Go further and add your data to the Woodland Trust’s Nature Calendar to contribute to citizen science.
  • Plant trees in your school grounds, or in a local greenspace. Make sure you get full permission before planting trees. Think about who will be responsible for looking after your trees. This could be something for older pupils to pass to younger pupils as they move up through the school – something we do now for others to inherit and enjoy. Help and links for tree planting can be found on our LEAF resources page
  • Find a local carbon sink, learn more about it and get involved with groups who are advocating for its protection. Some examples include forests and woodlands, peatlands and sea grass beds.

Forests and Community

Forests have always been of great importance to people and their communities. Our ancestors got their food by hunting and gathering plants from the forests. Communities around the world are linked to forests through products and associated livelihoods; we encourage schools to explore these links. We also encourage schools to examine the communities at risk of losing their homes due to illegal logging and agriculture. You could investigate ways of alleviating poverty through sustainable forestry, while improving livelihoods and creating green jobs. Where possible engage with local communities to share their knowledge and expertise.

Action ideas

  • Create rituals based on local seasonality, for example celebrate the first bud opening in spring or the first leaf falling in autumn. Involve your school and wider community in your new ritual.
  • Get to know your local park – visit a local park and find out how the park helps the local community, including what services are provided. Visit our Green Flag Award page to find your local park with the award.
  • Adopt a local tree or greenspace and find out its history by interviewing members of your local community. How could you make this tree or greenspace more part of your local community?

Forests and Products

Forests provide a range of resources we depend on. It would be impossible to get through a day without using something that derives from a forest. It could be firewood, paper, furniture, medicines or food. In addition to products we can directly relate to, forests deliver less obvious benefits and ecosystem services. We encourage you to explore the endless resources and opportunities that forests provide and find ways to use them sustainably.

Action ideas

  • Go on a scavenger hunt around your school / nursery to find items that are made from forest products.
  • Investigate the future of forest products that could help us deal with current environmental issues, for example wood based packaging, bamboo clothing.
  • Look into sustainable procurement in your school for forest related products. Does your school have a sustainable procurement policy? Can you help them create one, or expand an existing policy? This could include buying recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper products.

Forests and Water

Forests act as giant sponges, soaking up rainfall during wet seasons and releasing it slowly during drier times. In doing so, they can help reduce the severity of flash floods downstream. Forests provide natural filtration and can help improve water quality by minimizing soil erosion and reducing pollutants that reach local waters. We encourage you to examine the relationship between forests and water and to investigate the challenges in maximizing the wide range of forest benefits without detriment to water resources. Most importantly, we encourage you to come up with practical solutions that help ensure high water quality and help raise awareness about the importance of protecting our forests.

Action ideas

  • Experience the sensation of water outside. You could go outside in the rain and see how it feels and sounds. You could swap a puddle: invite pupils to collect all the water from two puddles then swap them over. You could create your own streams and dams with water and natural materials.
  • Learn about the forest water cycle.
  • Investigate aquatic forests, learn more about them and get involved with groups who are advocating for their protection. Some examples include kelp and sea grass beds.

Forest Laws and Codes

An important part of looking after our forests are the policies, laws and codes, which are developed to protect them. Understanding, policies, laws and codes and the interplay between humans and forests is crucial for understanding the potential conflict of interests that exist between different stakeholders. To work towards an understanding of the background on different views creates possibilities to make better decisions and take alternative actions in the future. 

Action ideas

  • Spend time observing how people interact with nature in your grounds or local greenspace. Use your findings to write an access code for your school grounds or local greenspace, explaining how others can help maintain the space and use it sustainably. Put up posters to explain your new code.
  • Learn about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. 
  • Campaign for sustainable management and access for your local woodland or greenspace.

Forest Myths

Forests mean different things to different people. The LEAF programme recognises that forests play an important role from an ecological, socio-cultural and economic point of view. One way of exploring the socio-cultural importance of forests is to study the myths and stories that are told by local people and their forests.

Action ideas

  • Find a local greenspace and write your own myth about a creature that could live there. Turn your myth into a play and act it out in the creature’s home.
  • Interview local people and ask if they know any myths based around your local greenspaces.
  • Read about Scottish myths based in forests, such as the Ghillie Dhu, Galloway Puma, Baobhan Sith: the Female Vampire and the Ettrick Forest Brownie.

Forest Creativity and Innovation

This theme aims to encourage you to investigate today’s problems and design real solutions using materials and inspiration form the forest. It is also a chance to unleash your creativity in imaginative ways to help you and others connect with natural environments. 

Action ideas

  • Write a poem or story about your local forest or greenspace.
  • Create an art exhibition in your local forest or greenspace using only natural materials and invite others to view them.
  • Investigate new wood based technologies, for example cross laminated timber (CLT) beams for construction, wood foam insulation, wood based packaging, wood based textiles.  

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