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Nature and nurture – building a natural play area

By Lucy Hart, head gardener

Over the past few weeks garden volunteers and staff have been working hard clearing an area of ivy roots and false acacia suckers in preparation for a natural play area to be built.

This new area will use logs and wooden objects saved from previous tree work on site as a basis for natural play, encouraging families to connect with nature in a fun and enjoyable way. Children will be encouraged to interact creatively with natural materials set in a woodland area of Fulham Palace’s botanic garden.

The play area will feature carved logs and wooden structures to balance on, to climb over and under and smaller pieces of timber which children can handle and play with. The design focuses around getting hands on with nature, sparking creativity in order to encourage a lifelong love of nature for the children who use it.

The play area uses sycamore trunks, from trees which grew at the Palace

This project has been one of my key ambitions and I’m thrilled that it’s almost ready. The play area has been designed around the logs we have and there has been no need to bring in any extra timber. We know that children enjoy climbing and running around and now they can do to their heart’s content without having any impact on our botanical collections. Hopefully we are connecting future generations with nature and the outdoors more, and helping them realise its ok to get a bit muddy!

Andy Wright working on the contruction

The natural play area has been built by Conservation and Access who also built the natural play trail at Box Hill. Andy Wright, countryside manager at Conservation and Access, explains the concept behind this type of play area:

The thing which makes natural play areas so different to other playgrounds is the element of risk involved. These areas are risk benefit assessed, something which is recommended by Natural England as a great learning experience for children. These play areas allow children to experience rough and tumble, with a chance to be brave and to learn about safety and dangers in a controlled environment. In designing this play area we’re creating a mix of elements to ensure there are aspects that all children will enjoy – I’m really excited to see how children use the new area when it opens!

Andy Wright

And so am I! We’ll be opening the play area on Sunday 22 September at our Glory of the garden family fun day and at 14:00 it will be marked by a 20 minute nature themed performance by Fulham Children’s Choir. The event will also feature birds of prey, live music, a caricature artist, garden games and flower crown making (using flowers and foliage from the Palace’s walled garden).

Once the natural play area opens on Sunday 22 September it will be open from dawn to dusk daily, entry to the house and garden is free. The play area is suitable for children of all ages.

Western Riverside Environmental Fund (WREF)

The natural play area has been generously funded by the Western Riverside Environmental Fund (WREF) which has supported environmental improvement projects for nearly 20 years across Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth and Wandsworth.