The historic art of foraging is being revived by pupils and staff at St Francis’ Primary School - and they need your help.
With a large woodland at the back of the school grounds, the award-winning school has already put it too good use and plans to extend the project to include more native species.
Actively used by the 820 pupils for a range of lessons, the aim is to bring in those who had an interest in foraging or know recipes for native berries and food.
Last year the school won the Eco-schools Green Flag award in recognition of the work it has done.
And the woodland has been recognised as being home to a very diverse range of species including many rare species of bird, plant and minibeast.
Teacher Dwyer Coleman explained: “We thought we would create a community project to try and preserve the cultural tradition of foraging that has been lost to the Lurgan area as it continues to become more urbanised.
We’d really like to get a group of people interested in the outdoors involvedDwyer Coleman
“I remember going on trips across the fields between Lurgan and Craigavon Lakes with my grandfathers. One would have made damson jam and taken us to one area, while the other made blackthorn walking sticks foraged from a totally different place.
“It got me thinking, how many other people have memories of this, and why don’t we do it anymore?
“Our plan is to firstly identify native species that were harvested, foraged and used by local communities in past generations from across the Lurgan area.
“We intend doing this by reaching out to families in Lurgan and asking them to complete a heritage plant survey, simply telling us what your family harvested, from what plant and what it was used for.
“We will then take this information and purchase new shrubs, bulbs and whips to introduce into the Woodland,” said Mr Coleman.
The school aims to form a volunteer group to go on site and work with a range of people to clear areas for replanting, create a wild plant nursery to rear seeds and young plants, then transplant them when the time is right.
“We also thought this would be a great time to get people involved in brightening up the area, working on projects like creating wildlife homes,
“We are also having a free stuff drive to collect useful things that people no longer need. Old bed sheets, used tins of paint, gardening equipment, lumber anything that might be of use.
“We want to try and recruit volunteers that have a knowledge of wild plants, an interest in nature, enjoy outdoors work, are artistic, or anyone who really likes the sound of the project.
“We hope to have enough information, ideas and stories to create a kind of book to exhibit all the things people used to use our wild countryside for.
“We hope to gather local food recipes, how to worksheets on creating everything from Holly garlands to daisy chains, blackthorn walking sticks to Hazel fences.”
Mr Coleman explained that the project will hopefully expand children’s knowledge of the local countryside, and what plants grow natively in Lurgan.
“We intend preserving traditional skills and activities by collecting information in survey form and teaching them to children in our school, therefore passing on foraging practices that are dying out across Lurgan.
“It will also help children to recognise a diverse range of plants, and give them a historical context as to why they are important. By giving each family a heritage plant survey it is encouraging children to learn how their grandparents and great-grandparents used plants in their daily lives.
“Hopefully this will develop their curiosity and respect for nature, but also emphasize how fragile our eco system is- the plants we aim to conserve on the school grounds where once abundant and now they are limited to tiny hedgerows or lost altogether.
“By extending the link to our St Ronan’s College colleagues we are hoping to influence projects in science, home economics and technology to give children real life experiences working with native biodiversity.”
Dwyer explained that St Francis are joint partners with St Ronan’s College and are collaborating on a series of events to raise awareness of the importance of conservation.
St Ronan’s are contributing with the Science, Technology, Art and Home Economics departments.
“Although the Woodland is St Francis’ property we are trying to make this a sustained link whereby the children will use the Woodland as an integral part of their curriculum in future years.
“For example St Ronan’s College science department will hopefully use the site for field studies and HE department will be using the site to harvest ingredients for their cookery classes,” said Dwyer.
In March St Francis’ school is kicking off with woodland undergrowth clearing, and building up a small forestry nursery using a greenhouse.
“We’d really like to get a group of people interested in the outdoors involved,” said Dwyer.
“There will be a need for people with knowledge of what plants used to grow locally, anyone who enjoys gardening, people who would like to contribute local recipes using foraged fruits and anyone who would be keen to help us build and create things out of logs and timber.
“If you don’t have time but would like to help we are also in need of old gardening tools, old fabrics and materials, tarpaulins, old outdoor paint, timber or on bricks. Anything that might be useful to the project would be warmly accepted as a donation.”
If you are interested please do not hesitate to contact Mr Coleman at St Francis PS on 028 3832 3163, or firstname.lastname@example.org.