Image of Newbattle Abbey College building

Forest College – for learners and leaders

Newbattle Abbey enjoys a rich and colourful history stretching back over 900 years. Today education is to the fore, and the site is recognised as the home of Scotland’s premier Adult Education Residential College. Since successfully bidding for Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Funds the Forest College here has been leading the way in providing lifelong learning outdoors.

Newbattle Abbey College came into being in the late 1930s when the owners handed the site over to the nation to be used as a college. The much-loved residential wing was added in the 1960s and the rest as they say is history.

A success story was born and with the emphasis on adult education, and making the most of second chances, a unique learning opportunity has been polished and perfected.  Now, with the establishment of a Forest College, a new and exciting element thrives.

The story today has many strands.  At the very basic level Forest Skills Courses are aimed at learners of all ages to support access to the benefits of outdoor learning. This embraces encouraging visits from schools, colleges and local communities to use the Lord Ancrum’s Wood and the surrounding campus grounds to develop and learn as individuals and groups.

The Forest College isn’t just set on delivering learning through courses and training, but is striving to equip others to become leaders. By ensuring that local training has regional and even national appeal the college has an aspiration that visiting individuals and organisations are ultimately enabled to lead on providing courses and training themselves.

Take a course here and you can leave with accreditation for Forest and Outdoor Learning Awards (FOLA).  What does that mean? 

Essentially the top level accreditation recognises that recipients have gained solid practical knowledge that enables them to safely work with others and lead groups in a forest and outdoors setting.

The qualifications are nationally recognised and benchmarked to the SCQF at levels 2-4 which are about developing Forest Skills for learners of all ages, and levels 5, 6 & 8 which develop leadership skills towards becoming a Forest School and Outdoor Leader. This isn’t just good in its own right; it’s a valuable stepping stone on the way to employment or educational attainment.

Courses encompass a wide range of subjects.  From ecology and species studies, through to the use of tools and applying skills in in the outdoors, an array of subjects are covered.

It’s an ideal site in which to deliver training of this kind.  Aside from the architectural delights of the main building, the woodland here is breathtakingly beautiful. Step over the sleek bridge which spans the South Esk river at the Ice House and you enter Lord Ancrum’s Wood. This is the route to a woodland wonderland. A grand forest in every sense, it flourishes under the tender care of Forestry Commission Scotland. Mighty oak, a towering giant redwood, hazel, ash, birch and rowan all jostle for your attention as a gentle path winds its way beneath the trees.

But this site is as much about people as it is nature.

Laura, The Community Woodland Ranger, is on hand to ensure that visitors can make the most of this fabulous site. This includes things like offering woodland learning programmes for both primary and secondary schools and a busy events programme that draws in the local community to enjoy identification, crafting and walking opportunities.

Laura is also quick to acknowledge the sterling support offered by an energetic and well-establish volunteer group who carry out regular practical woodland management tasks.

The Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund team are delighted to have been able to support the Forest College at Newbattle.  In opening up opportunities for all ages whilst delivering quality and practical learning and qualifications options there is a lot to be proud of in the project. In an era in which the benefits of greenspaces and being outdoors are increasingly appreciated Forest College offer a unique blend well worth highlighting.


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The Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention is a major Scottish programme of investment, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund, which will green our larger towns and cities. Newbattle Abbey College is working together with SNH and other partner organisations to deliver the Forest College project that will deliver many benefits for local communities, including disadvantaged and hard to reach groups, by helping to unlock economic potential and creating better places to live and work in.