Mel’s research

A full list of my academic publications can be viewed on my website and CV.

My focus is currently on children, equity and climate change.  The development in 2018 of children striking for climate futures represents an escalation of what was already a matter of extreme urgency and importance. Specifically I am interested in the enactment of child rights and societal responses to the climate strikes, from an intersectional and common worlds standpoint.

I am one of the few people in the world to hold a PhD on Forest School, investigating practitioner experiences. Happily though, more and more research is being done so I suspect this status won’t last for long! I’m now recognised internationally for my expertise and scholarship on the subject, which has developed in particular upon socio-cultural and eco-social justice aspects such as nature-society relations, systemic change, the politics of space, restorative pedagogy, and inter-cultural perspectives. I have conducted further academic research on international perspectives and social justices within forest school, community contexts of outdoor play and learning, woodland wellbeing and arts in health.

My academic knowledge is matched with practical wisdom drawn from a background of over 20 years as a practitioner in environmental and outdoor arts, play and learning. I fundamentally respect this quality of phronesis and aim to include it in all my research on principle. New knowledge as practically applicable and challenging of the usual hierarchies.

Knowing the peaks and troughs of forest school practice so intimately, my expertise means I am well-placed to support practitioners which I continue to do through this consultancy, Free Range Creativity.

Recent projects

I recently worked on these important projects and I am the main author of the published results.

The Hare and the Tortoise go to Forest School….

I worked as co-investigator on Wild Wiltshire. a 3 year longitudinal qualitative study, funded by the Blagrave Trust and Plymouth University. The project ran in collaboration with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and Free Range Creativity. The study investigates wellbeing and academic outcomes for young primary school children engaging in an outdoor learning project with a Wildlife Trust. There is an evidence gap of long term outcomes, to add to the rigorous investigation of how outdoor learning works and what conditions sustain it, so it’s great to get this chance to contribute. Lucky children too; 3 whole years! Indeed, let’s hope this set up some habits for life. I know that some of the children have carried on exploring the woods and local areas in their own time, independently and with their families. I

Link to main results paper now published (open access coming soon, and ask me for an e-print)

Link to review on US site by Dr Ruth Wilson.

Link to review on Forest School Association website, 01 Feb 2019.

Previous draft free to share – author’s own copyright as pre-print version.

The Hare and the Tortoise Author’s Draft Feb 2018

This project contributed to the  significant and national Natural Connections Demonstration Project, which ran from 2012 – 2016, as detailed in this Natural England Commissioned Report NECR215 Annex 1.  Natural Connections was funded by Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Natural England and Historic England, commissioned by Natural England, and delivered in South West England by Plymouth University. Natural Connections was intended to:

  • Stimulate the demand from schools and teachers for learning outside the classroom in the local natural environment.

  • Support schools and teachers to build learning outside the classroom in the local natural environment into their planning and practices.

  • Stimulate the supply of high quality learning outside the classroom in the natural environment services for schools and teachers.

The key findings identified that the fundamental challenges to learning outside the classroom in the natural environment (LINE) in schools were local and revolved around a lack of teacher confidence in teaching outside and fragmentation of LINE service provision. These underpinned the more traditionally cited challenges of curriculum pressures, concern about risks and cost.

Shared land assets  for education and community groups.

In 2015-16 as principal investigator, I led a feasibility study on shared land assets  for education and community groups. In a small local area in the South West of England, across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset, we assessed and support local authority and land-based organisations’ capacity to support and provide land partnerships. This is the start of a new chapter for Free Range Creativity, as we have been supporting organisations to develop their work and one of the biggest barriers is security, ownership and accessibility of land to practice. We believe that is is a pertinent issue that may require systemic changes to facilitate a cultural shift in perception as well as shifts in policy and practice, to make land available to people who need it. The study is funded by the Costwolds Area of Outstanding National Beauty. Mel is joined by Francis Barton as project associate on this project.

Further professional activities:

Fellow: Royal Academy for the Society of Arts and Royal Geographical Society, UK.

Member: Natural England Strategic Research Network (outdoors for all and learning in natural environments)

Member: Common Worlds Research Collective

Special Interest Group member: Royal Geographical Society Children, Young People and Families SIG, UK Forest School Association Research SIG, European Outdoor Education network, Environmental and Sustainability Education Research (ESER) UNESCO Network in Europe (EERA), Arts and Health Early Career Researchers Network.

Member of global policy links in early childhood / land use / urban / family / health.

I volunteer as a peer reviewer for a number of established academic journals.

Contact me

I’m always happy to hear from students and others who need resources from the literature.

The much requested Forest School Literature Review will be available as an open access publication soon… (2019-20) so watch this space. Academic publishing is a rigorous process and takes a long time.