Health & Safety: A Nature Park Guide
Our hope is for young people to feel safe and confident within local areas of nature including their school, nursery or college grounds, so health and safety considerations should become integral to their learning experience. Young people should be supported to enjoy and be respectful of the environment, taking care to keep it safe for others and to leave nothing behind. It is important that everyone is aware of the wonderful learning opportunities outside of the classroom and these should not be reduced through excessive health and safety measures.
This guidance provides a general overview of what may need to be considered when working with young people outside, developed by educators and practitioners with experience of working in varied outdoor education and community settings. Most of the activities suggested within the National Education Nature Park will not require any further paperwork beyond the annual permissions from parents and carers, and standard health and safety measures in place for regular outdoor activities such as playtime and P.E. It is also good practice to consult Department for Education recommended guidance and support (Health and safety: advice for schools, Section 6; DfE, 2022) for specific activities and requirements of your school.
See the Terms and Conditions on our website for more general information on Safeguarding and Health and Safety when taking part in the Nature Park.
It is important to follow the policies for levels of supervision set by your school / setting for outdoor activities. Remember that initially, young people may not be used to outdoor learning, so additional supervision is recommended.
- The age, ability and experience of the learners
- The number of learners
- The type and complexity of the activity
- The number of support staff available
We recommend doing a brief check of the outdoor area before your outside activity to remove anything hazardous. Even in school grounds, animal faeces, rubbish, etc. may need to be removed (something your caretaker may do, too). Remember to use good quality washing up gloves. It can also be useful to use cones to identify the area you want to use, or to identify tree stumps and trip hazards that children and young people could trip on. It is good practice for trees to be surveyed each year to ensure they are safe, avoiding activities near them when there are high winds.
A short health and safety talk before going out might include reminding learners to be careful of slippery grass, fallen branches, uneven surfaces, and spikey plants, especially when exploring the ‘wilder’ areas of the school grounds.
Create some quick and easy rules for learners to follow, including:
- Taking care to move calmly around the outdoor space to avoid slips and trips
- Maintaining a noise-level respectful to others and to ensure that everyone can hear instructions
- Not eating or putting things they find near their face / mouths
- Washing hands with soap and water before eating and drinking
- Washing hands with soap and water after working outside or with items they have brought in, such as soil and leaves.
- Check with an adult how to use tools safely (additional guidance on tool safety can be found here).
(Informed by CLEAPSS guidance)
Remember that animals encountered are unlikely to pose significant risks.
- Teach young people to use appropriate equipment to handle invertebrates and not touch them directly (for example, young people might try to hold a worm. Worms breathe through their skin so being out of the soil/ their habitat and on our hands for too long will cause their skin to dry out and the worm will find it difficult to breathe which is why we don't hold them for very long).
- Teach learners to report any injured birds and animals to an adult, and not to touch them
- Teach learners to be aware of any hairy caterpillars as they can cause allergic reactions
- Teach learners to stand still around bees and wasps. Unless a child is allergic, bee and wasps stings are not a major problem. (Bees and wasps are looking for nectar, so when they are flying around us, it’s just because they are checking if we have any flowers!)
- Teach learners that if they spot an interesting animal (perhaps a frog, or a resting dragonfly), to take a step backwards to give the animal some space as it could be frightened by a loud group surrounding it. Discuss, one at a time, what you notice about the animal -has anyone seen it before, what do we know about it, where do we think it's come from/going to? This will support learners to respect local nature.
Plants and fungi
- Teach young people not to eat plants or touch fungi they find (additional guidance on plants here)
- Warn learners that attractive looking fruits and seeds should not be eaten
- Warn children that fungi should not be touched or eaten, and we should never eat mushrooms that we find in the wild
Weather and Clothing
Make sure learners have the appropriate clothing and footwear for the weather and activity. Hats and sun cream are recommended in the summer, with lots of opportunity to take shade and drink water.
Layered clothing, a windproof jacket, gloves and covered legs is recommended in the winter. Waterproof coat and trousers and wellington boots are recommended in wet weather.
For specific outdoor activities such as beekeeping in schools, maintaining and restoring a pond, gardening and composting, we recommend using guidance from your area health and safety consultant, such as CLEAPSS, where more detailed guidance can be found.
Thumbnail image: © RHS, Credit: RHS / Oliver Dixon