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Willow for Shade

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A tunnel made from living willowWillow for Shade is a project funded by the New Opportunities Fund Cancer Programme. It was developed in response to concern over the increasing number of malignant melanoma cases in Northern Ireland.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in Northern Ireland and research indicates that children and babies who are sunburned are more likely to develop the condition in later life. In Northern Ireland, we have a 10% higher chance of being affected by skin cancer than anywhere else in the UK.

The project developed from the need to provide areas of shade and places for children to play outside school buildings. The concept of creating living willow structures in the grounds of primary and nursery schools highlights the importance of taking care in the sun, whilst involving the school in an environmental improvement project.

The aim of the project was to provide shaded areas within school surroundings and target Key Stage 1 & 2 children in the spring term in the development of skin care policies. The project was facilitated by staff from The Conservation Volunteers and was an opportunity for schools to become involved in an ecological project.

A total of 24 schools from disadvantaged wards within the Eastern Health & Social Services Board were identified to participate in the Willows For Shade project. Some children were able to lend a hand in the construction of the domes by helping to put the willow in the ground and weave it around, like a huge basket.

Willow is a very versatile plant that can easily be propagated by pushing a branch into the ground during the dormant season (November-March). It will grow very quickly. In a good season, willow can grow up to 12 feet (4 metres)! It is also extremely flexible and can be woven into intricate shapes. As the willow grows it makes new branches, but the original shape will remain. Each winter, new branches are woven or pruned as required to maintain the original shape for years to come - the willow becomes a living sculpture!

Teachers, parents and other school representatives were given the opportunity to take advantage of the training sessions provided by The Conservation Volunteers to learn how to manage and maintain the structures to gain the full benefit of the project. Schools were also be issued with 'Care in the Sun' information packs which will provide more detailed guidance of the risks of skin cancer.