Deep amongst the fields on Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire, 25 young people spent a week living under canvas, learning survival skills and getting stuck in with conservation tasks.

The farm was pleased to provide the location for a camp run by the Cambridgeshire Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Open Awards Centre. People aged from 17 to 24 travelled from all over the country to participate as part of their (DofE) Gold Award.

None of the young people knew each other at the start of the week – a requirement set by DofE to test and expand their ability to build new relationships and to work as a team.

Under the guidance of DofE volunteer leaders, and with support from CRT Conservation Officer Vince Lea, they have got involved in a huge range of activities. They donned waders to pull out invasive Himalayan balsam on the banks of the brook, strung hammocks up between the trees and slept in them for a night, set fires and cooked wild venison (muntjac), pigeons and trout, and coppiced willow and weaved the bark into cordage. Plus, even more!

As the participants sat in a meadow on a sunny mid-August day with beautiful dragonflies whizzing overhead, using knives to carve wooden whistles and cutlery, we asked how they were getting on.

Woody from Bury St Edmunds, age 19, said: “It’s fun to get outdoors and experience nature while working as a team. It’s also interesting to hear about the conservation work on the farm and how much care goes into looking after the brook, including the partnership with lots of other organisations to pull Himalayan balsam.” (Click here to find out more about this collaborative project.)

Gena from Birmingham, age 23, took part in the camp during her summer break from studying aerospace engineering at university in Belfast. “It’s been fun meeting people with a similar mindset,” she said. “We’ve had so many laughs around the campsite and have learned so much. I really enjoyed wading in the brook to get the Himalayan balsam. It was mucky but in a fun way and you could really get stuck in. We’ve also learnt lots of survival skills. The farm has been a nice peaceful setting, especially the hammocks in the woods.”

Walter from Doncaster, age 24, said: “This week has been a change from the norm, a real experience. I’ve particularly enjoyed learning how to wood carve; it takes a lot of skill and care. We heard lots of noises from wildlife when we slept in the hammocks at night!”

Tracy Grant, from Cambridgeshire DofE Open Award Centre, said: “With its mix of habitats Lark Rise Farm has been a fantastic base for the camp. We need open meadows for camping and cooking and woodland for activities and to source wood for carving."

Vince Lea said: “I got a real buzz of energy from having so many young people helping and talking about the environment. They achieved a huge amount of valuable work and all the while it felt like we were having fun. I’m particularly grateful to the three experienced volunteers, Pauline, Amy and Duncan, for supporting the activities, and to Will and Mark who provided the wild game.”

TOP RIGHT: Gena, Walter and Woody (left to right) carving spoons. 

LEFT: Alice in a hammock in Lark Rise's woodland. The hammocks were loaned by Thomas's School in London. 

Published: 22nd August 2023