THE Forestry Commission has teamed up with Google Expeditions to take schoolchildren on virtual tours of working forests.

The Commission is using the platform with the aim of informing the next generation about sustainable timber production, the importance of plant health and how woodlands are designed to create habitats for wildlife.

The free Expeditions were made using a 360-degree camera and can be viewed on mobile devices and tablets. Users can heighten their experience with a virtual reality (VR) headset.

Pupils will visit a tree nursery to find out which species could make up the forests of the future. They will explore machines used in forestry, study woodland habitats and wildlife, and learn about the importance of trees in the face of the climate emergency.

Students will also hear from people working in the forest about a range of possible careers, including forest planners, ecologists, arborists, tree health officers and machine operators.

The 360-degree panoramas and 3D images are controlled by a tablet, which the teacher can use to point out interesting sights along the way.

Sarah Wood, learning manager at Forestry England, commented: “We want to inspire the next generation about our work and the variety of career opportunities in the forest.

“These new tools will also help inform how forestry has huge benefits for both people and wildlife. It is too often assumed that felling trees in any way is damaging for nature, which is simply untrue.

“As well as providing a renewable resource and jobs in our communities, sustainable forest management provides wildlife with the diverse habitats it needs to survive.”

Year 2 students at Hannah Moore Primary School in Bristol were recently treated to a test run of the forest expeditions. Teacher Gen Ellison-Smith said: “The students absolutely loved using their virtual reality headsets and learning all about the forest. After the class, they wouldn’t stop talking about the different jobs they wanted to have. I’ll definitely be using these tools with other classes in the future.”

PK Khaira-Creswell, director of the Forestry Commission centenary programme, added: “To tackle the climate and ecological crises, we need to continue growing our talented workforce.

“Young people are so passionate about the natural world. By giving them behind-the-scenes access to the forest, we hope to inspire some of them to seek careers in forestry and related industries.”