School Wood on the screen

by Kim McRae

YOUNG gardeners from Finzean Primary School are to star in BBC2s Beechgrove Garden tonight (Thursday), demonstrating how they have transformed a local wood.

The children, aged between three and 12, came up with ideas to improve the area — known locally as Finzean School Wood — many of which have been incorporated into the latest plans.

And last Thursday and Friday (May 13 and 14), Beechgrove experts Jim McColl and Carol Baxter were on hand to offer advice to pupils and help them plant and water the trees, flowers and plants — including Rowans, Birches, Forest of Birse Oak and native heathers and wildflowers.

Finzean Primary headteacher, Maureen Vernal, said: “The original wood was planted in 1973, then more planting was done for a millennium project.

“The youngsters wanted to progress that with stepping log pathways, wheelchair access and a picnic area. They also wanted a pond but we couldn't have that, so a wet area was built instead.

“The designer, Ian Anderson, has used these ideas and, with his expertise, turned it into this beautiful area and linked the old wood with the new wood.

“A number of children whose parents planted trees in 1973 have planted trees this week.”

Angus Farquharson, owner of Finzean Estate and Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire, gave the school a piece of land for the original woodland and he came forward with another piece to extend the woodland area.

Birse Community Trust now leases the wood from the Farquharsons on a 25-year lease, and manages and maintains the site with the school.

Funding to transform the area came from the Scottish Executive, Scottish National Heritage and Beechgrove Garden.

The new area now includes bird feeders and bat and bird boxes and children working on the wood took part in mini-beast hunts looking for beetles, bugs and worms.

And large wooden sculptures including spurtles and toadstools — made by Davie Duncan from the local sawmill — are dotted around the paths for people to find as they meander their way through the wood.

“There has been a great deal of community spirit and people in the community are using it already,” said Mrs Vernal. “Local villagers have really helped out on weekends and evenings, local businesses donated machines and plants for nothing and Aberdeenshire Council has been very supportive.

“The work by the children has been very much part of the curriculum, covering environmental studies, expressive arts, language, maths and citizenship.”

And the young green-fingered enthusiasts said they had a great time helping out.

Eleven-year-old Ross Fazakerley-Guy, said: “We've been digging, planting and watering trees.

“We also helped with the sensory garden — which has small plants you can smell when they are in full bloom — and making bat boxes.

“It looks much better here compared to what it was and we have learned a lot from it.”

Pupils Lauren Duncan, 12; Bruce Jamieson, 11; Alistair Ross, 10; Rory Farquharson, 10 and Calum Bell, 11, said they would now use the wood for picnics and days out.

Carol Baxter, from Beechgrove Garden, said: “Finzean School Wood is one of five community garden projects going on in this year's series.

“We were particularly impressed because it was a good community project involving the school children and lots of education for them.

“They have been really enthusiastic and even the little ones have been planting and really loving it. On good days, they will come down here and picnic!”

Garden designer Ian Anderson, said: “The area is very naturalistic and has no hard landscaping apart from the dry stane dyke and the odd arch — and the gravel came from local quarries.

“It has worked out better than I imagined it would and the dream will be in five years time, when all the trees and plants have grown.”

Jane Bennett, project manager for Birse Community Trust (BCT), said: “This area has now become a bit more special and it is due to the help given by the whole community — we wouldn't have been able to do it without them.”

The project took about four weeks and finished on Friday (May 14) but tending, watering and looking after the area will go on for years.

Beechgrove Garden is due to be shown on BBC2 at 8.30pm tonight (Thursday, May 20).