Forest School Awards
The outreach programme for Learning Without Walls

register | login
NIFSA - logo

About the Northern Ireland Forest School Association (NIFSA)

The Northern Ireland Forest School Association (NIFSA) has been developing Forest School programmes in Northern Ireland since 2008. NIFSA is a registered charity and is a company limited by guarantee. NIFSA is recognised as the foremost authority on Forest Schools in Northern Ireland and is hugely respected internationally.

Brian Poots
Brian Poots, founder and CEO of NIFSA
explaining some den building techniques

Since 2008 NIFSA has developed its own Government recognised Forest School Leader qualification. This insures that training and accreditation are to the very highest standard. Teachers that attain the qualification are confident and competent at delivering top quality environmental education programmes with their pupils and train other teachers within their school to become involved.

NIFSA is working with hundreds of schools and nurseries throughout Northern Ireland through a variety of different programmes. Every year it trains and accredits dozens of teachers and youth leaders to achieve their Forest School Leader Level 3 qualification. NIFSA engages tens of thousands of children in outdoor learning annually.

NIFSA is a membership organisation and also secures its finances through service contracts with local authorities and central Government in Northern Ireland. Finally, local businesses also support NIFSA to work with local schools.

Dr Gillian Humes, former Science Co-Ordinator Belfast Education & Library Board said this about the work of NIFSA...


"This is one of the few projects that truly integrates all elements of the revised curriculum.

It incorporates aspects of history, geography and science, delivers an opportunity to develop thinking skills and personal capabilities, and has a strong emphasis on promoting numeracy and literacy. Even more importantly than this, the initiative connects children to their outdoor environment, stimulating curiosity and inspiring a love of the natural world that is likely to remain long after the end of primary school. Teachers participating in the project are well supported with expertise and resources and enjoy the project as much as the children."

NIFSA - logo

About the Dufferin Foundation

Brian Poots
Lady Dufferin with Chair of the Irish Forest School Association, Joan Whelan and Brian Poots, CEO of NIFSA

Lady Dufferin has been patron of the Northern Ireland Forest School Association since 2016.

She owns Clandeboye Estate which nestles in 2,000 acres of land in North Down. It has a working dairy farm and Yoghurt Company. There are over 1,000 acres of broadleaved woodland, making it one of the largest native woodlands in Ireland.

Lady Dufferin has always been passionate about education, the environment and the arts and has been a huge supporter of them all over the years. She supports all of these worthy causes through her charitable Trust - The Dufferin Foundation.

TCV or Conservation Volunteers have an established tree nursery on the Estate. Here they have staff and volunteers growing over 100,000 native trees every year.

Lady Dufferin was also instrumental in getting the Woodland Trust to operate in Northern Ireland. Now the Woodland Trust have over 53 publically accessible native woodlands covering over 1,000 acres.

Brian Poots
Dendron Lodge residential accommodation at Clandeboye Estate.

Lady Dufferin's vision is to see Clandeboye Estate being used as a vibrant and inspirational centre of excellence for learning. Children, students, teachers, academics will be able to use Clandeboye Estate to become inspired and reconnected again to our natural world. Particular emphasis will also be placed on Shared Education. Communities from different backgrounds will learn and play together at Clandeboye. This experience will breakdown any preconceptions or prejudices children may have of others from different cultural backgrounds and help to forge a more tolerant and respectful society in Northern Ireland.

All of this activity comes under the umbrella of the "Learning Without Walls" initiative.