BUILDING a den, sticking their hands in mud and painting with the most natural of ingredients, cooking over an open campfire – these are the memories of a childhood well spent.

So says the team behind Stomping Ground Forest School and soon, once the ink’s dry on the planning permission, it will be all systems go at Dukes Hagg Wood, near Prudhoe.

The woodland is in the process of being bought by forest school leader Sophie Watkinson, who aims to turn it into a crucible of fun and adventure for children of all ages.

Stomping Ground is a community interest company, in other words a social enterprise, that aims to re-establish the connection between children and nature, using a number of different woodland locations in the North-East.

“Our sessions are becoming increasingly valuable in a world where our children spend more time on screens than they do outside,” said Sophie.

“We’ve worked with more than 1,500 children over the last four years, and the transformation we see in them is amazing.

“Learning outside in this way has a huge impact on their self-esteem and parents report improved behaviour at home and school too.”

While they welcome groups dropping in for one-off days and events, the team much prefers to work with children for the duration of a school year, giving them time to become used to their new environment and learning how to play in a very traditional way again.

Sophie said: “Sometimes there can be a bit of fear of the unknown and a lack of understanding about what to do once they’re in the woodland.

“They wait for guidance from an adult, so at the beginning we often provide a lot of activities. Slowly over time though we remove the adult input and give them room to make their own decisions.”

Gradually the children expand naturally into their new environment, playing tag and hide and seek, gathering wood to build dens and do craftwork, and joining in with cooking over an open fire.

“We get them to think about how far they can go while still being able to hear what’s happening in the camp,” she said.

“That encourages them to explore while remaining safe.”

One of the most popular pastimes, with small children in particular, is searching for ‘treasure’, in this case things such as pine cones and unusual leaves.

“We go on walks and do some simple foraging too,” she said. “We might pick nettles for nettle tea we then make back at camp.”

Sometimes they play games that encourage the children to be quiet too, so they hear the birdsong all around them.

As for the woodland itself, the enterprise is working with the Woodland Trust to develop a management plan designed to bolster local biodiversity.

Invasive species will be cleared and native species planted instead, so that it will be a place that will improve with age.

Part and parcel of Stomping Ground’s plans are the youth, after-school and holiday clubs that will provide an alternative to the usual indoor provision.

Families and private groups come along too, besides a myriad of school groups.

“It’s usually the highlight of their week,” said Sophie.

“If you consider the fact school children don’t have a choice in the matter, it’s a pleasure to see how much they look forward to the visit.

“When they are in a very structured, heavily-led adult system, it is such a contrast when they come here, a place where they are in charge.

“We don’t have any intended outcomes from the sessions, so there is no pressure on them to achieve anything.

“We let them be children simply having fun.”