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Nature Play. Simple and fun ideas for all

To PDF version of Nature Play brochureThis practical guide on nature play offers fun, simple and cost effective examples of play ideas from easily sourced materials. It will help Forestry Commission staff and other landowners or managers wanting to improve informal play provision for children. Its presentational style, through photographs, also illustrates clearly to practitioners and partner organisations what is meant by nature play.


- Foreword by CABE Space

- Introduction

- Appendix

  • Idea-1: Tree Climbing
    We all remember those special trees with large lower limbs that we climbed, swung and bounced on. Often in thinning operations trees with ‘poor form’ are removed, or trees brashed to encourage clean stems. In areas where people are using forests for recreation and play, trees with lower limbs should be retained.

  • Idea-2: Play Log
    Occasionally an old butt from a large broadleaf is rejected at felling due to being rotten or hollow. These can make great play elements left as they are, or hollowed out and shaped by a sculptor. A hollow log could be used as the entrance to a tunnel or burrow if an earthwork play space was being created.

  • Idea-3: Fallen Tree
    This should be so easy for the FC, but for some reason we’d rather chop these kind of tree tops up for firewood. Connecting two or more trees with ropes or chains will add additional play value. ‘Replanting’ tree tops can create natural climbing structures.

  • Idea-4: Play Roots
    Often large windblown trees are quickly cleared up and root plates lifted back into their holes. Roots not only look amazing once the soil has been washed away; they provide play opportunities or an interesting place for people to hang objects or art work found in – or made from – the forest.

  • Idea-5: Log Arrangements
    Logs from surrounding woodland areas can bearranged in patterns to create seating, balancing beams or other play opportunities.

  • Idea-6: Shaped Logs
    Logs that are roughly shaped can have additional play value for holding sand, stones, soil or rain and can stimulate imaginative play. Carving channels along the surface of a log can create tracks for marbles or pebbles to be rolled. Place near water to divert streams along their length.

  • Idea-7: Stepping Logs
    Logs set into the ground and lengths of timberbeam can be arranged to provide a stepping path.Stumps and other obstacles or points of interest can be connected such as the forked tree in the photo.

  • Idea-8: Balance Beams
    A beam suspended between two points, such as logs, mounds or tree limbs, can create a balance beam or double up as a resting point.

  • Idea-9: Upright Logs
    A series of vertical poles set into the ground in a regular or random arrangement makes an interesting den or play space for games like tag. Posts can be set at an angle, carved, have horizontal posts introduced or have the tops angled for variation. Hundreds of posts could be used for a vast play space.

  • Idea-10: Vertical Stepping Logs
    A long ‘holding’ pole bolted to a shorter ‘stepping’ pole. Randomly locate up to 30 poles to create an interesting play space for all ages. These elements can be used in a course with other elements such as balance beams.

  • Idea-11: Avenues, Gateways and Boundaries
    Create gateways as entrances to different forest experiences. Plant trees and manage vegetation to create avenues. Define spaces with boundary features such as fences or hurdles.

  • Idea-12: Play Path
    An interestingly designed and constructed path provides a variety of play opportunities for those with the imagination to create their own adventure or game.

  • Idea-13: Timber Decking
    Timber decking provides a different experience for children and wheel chair users. A raised walkway protects tree roots and soft soils and creates an interesting sound. Undulating the deck surface also adds interest.

  • Idea-14: Secret Path
    Create a brashed ‘deer track’ through an area of thicket stage conifer plantation or through a newly planted area. This idea is easy to implement and most sites have a suitable crop. It can be easily relocated once the trees have matured and the under-storey is too open.

  • Idea-15:  Brash-Lined Path
    Often after thinning or felling there is a large amount of brash left lying beside a forest trail which can look very messy. Some conscientious managers clear this by dragging it into the edge of neighbouring trees. Here is an alternative use for the brash, forming a dead-hedge and winding path through woodland or cleared areas.

  • Idea-16: Timber Post Maze
    This maze at Moors Valley was installed by a play specialist, but it could easily have a more natural feel if it was made with suitable branch wood.

  • Idea-17: Long Grass and Wild Flowers
    Grass areas are often mown on a regular basis to provide informal play areas, yet long grass and wild flower planting can also provide habitat and play space.

  • Idea-18: Plants for Play
    Well arranged plants can become play houses, hideouts, castles, bases and home camps.

  • Idea-19: Willow Domes and Structures
    Use willow rods to create a series of tunnels, domes, hiding places and play spaces on open ground or ride sides. Create tunnels through existing shrubs.

  • Idea-20: Attracting Wildlife
    Children are fascinated by wildlife that can be easily encouraged in the places where children play. Mini-beast habitats, wormeries, bird nesting boxes, bird feeding areas and suitable flowers and shrubs will attract wildlife.

  • Idea-21: Pools and Muddy Pits
    Many children enjoy splashing in puddles with their wellies, or throwing sticks and stones in standing water. It’s even better when puddles freeze in cold weather and children can have fun skidding or smashing through the ice.

  • Idea-22: Streams and Ponds
    Water is one of the most valuable play environments, and running water adds an extra
    dimension and challenge as anyone who has played in a stream or on the beach will know.

  • Idea-23: Mounds. Ditches and Hollows
    Mounds and ditches surprisingly attract all kinds of play activity, whether they have water running in them or not.

  • Idea-24: Banks and Slopes
    Children love to run down, slide or roll down slopes. And best of all when it snows!

  • Idea-25: Den Building
    Dens are a simple way for all ages to enjoy building.

  • Idea-26: Hiding Places and Sneaky Views
    One of children’s favourite games is to run ahead and hide behind various objects, jumping out to surprise friends and relatives at the last minute. It’s a game that young children play endlessly that provides a fun way for them to get exercise and confidence in venturing off alone.

  • Idea-27: Cone Pool
    A large area of pine cones provides a quirky, safe surface to play on.

  • Idea-28:  Seats
    Incorporating seating into play spaces is an important aspect of play, either for providing a comfortable place for family and friends to sit and wait, creating a place for older children to hang out with their friends, or providing additional structures on which children might play.

  • Idea-29:  Sculpture
    Sculpture has for a long time been a part of someFC recreation sites. Sculpture and art, whether permanent or temporary, can add an extra dimension to children’s play, particularly if children have been involved in its creation.

  • Idea-30: Boulders
    Boulders can be used to create a maze, seating, or as stepping stones. The spiral arrangement of boulders below defines a space that can be used by teenagers as their territory. A boulder terrace set into a sloping bank can be a simple and effective way of creating a climbing wall.

  • Idea-31: Stuff Left Lying Around
    Interesting things are often tidied up, removed or burned. It’s amazing how children love to pick up and play with the most simple things.

  • Idea-32: Ideas and Questions through Signs
    Signs are a great way of making people think about the opportunities for play around them. All sorts of sign formats can be used, such as formal, decorative or temporary notices.

  • Idea-33: Quizes, Puzzles and Games
    It would be wrong to think that all children’s play has to take place on a physical structure. Activities for people of any age or ability, individually or as a group, can be organised through a quiz, a puzzle, a treasure hunt or a game.

  • Idea-34: Folklore and Themes 
    Sites such as Bewilderwood (Wroxham, near Norwich) and The Dwarves Forest (Tervete, Latvia) have created real homes for imaginary forest people. The dwellings
    reflect a fairy-story quality and are linked to other structures and events for human visitors (such as signs, play areas and activities).
Last updated: 8th March 2016

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.