SCHOOL pupils celebrated with a Fairford-based education charity after numbers of children visiting its country estates increased to over 25,000 a year.

Children from Hatherop Castle School from Year 2 joined in the celebrations with education charity Ernest Cook Trust during their Forest School visit at Macaroni Woods on the Trust's Fairford estate.

The Trust has seen a huge surge in demand for its free outdoor education programmes for school children. Visits to its estates nationally have risen from 10,000 children in 2009 to over 25,000 last academic year.

Of those 25,000 visits, most were to ECT’s Fairford and Slimbridge estates, which welcomed 15,750 children.

ECT’s chief executive Nicholas Ford said: “This is a very significant milestone for the Ernest Cook Trust and it’s really pleasing to see that demand for the work we do, helping children to learn from the land, is steadily increasing among schools.”

The trust, founded in 1952 by philanthropist Ernest Cook, devotes its time to the conservation and management of the countryside. It owns and manages 22,000 acres of landed estates across five counties in England. It also actively encourages children and young people to learn from the land through hands-on educational opportunities on its estates, and by giving grants. Each year the trustees give £1.8million in educational grants to benefit children and young people.

Regular visitors to ECT's Forest School are pupils of Southrop Primary School. Headteacher Allan Brown said the whole school was delighted the trust had reached such a milestone.

"Visiting the estates is hugely beneficial to our children who might not often get the opportunity to run around in the countryside. When we visit the Forest School the children make mud pies, build fires, climb trees in a safe environment," he said.

"Learning outdoors is a wonderful change for them as they get the fantastic opportunity to investigate and explore."

Children in the Reception class attend the Forest School each week and the other children also visit fairly regularly.

Allan continued: "We're also taking part in a carbon neutral programme. We plant 11 trees a year, and the ECT gives us space to do this. Planting these trees keeps our carbon footprint low."