“THE idea of working with children started in 2002,” said Mike Harrison.

“I was in Kabul. In the evenings I was fighting in the hills, but my day job seemed to be making kites for the kids.

“We’d go down to orphanages and work with the children there. There was just something about them – they radiated positivity.

“That’s where the inspiration came from initially.”

Mike was born in Wroughton, but when he was three years old the family moved to his mother’s home county, Cornwall.

He joined the Army at 16 and served all over the world during the next 25 years before leaving due to PTSD.

He puts the problem down not to experiences in battle, but being rebuffed by the chain of command when he reported abuse of young people by members of the Afghan National Police.

“Within minutes, Bastion came back and said, ‘We can’t get involved, it’s political.’ That destroyed me.

“It made me disgusted with the whole system.”

Mike left the Army in 2016.

“I was in a pretty bad place. I went with an organisation called Step Together, which is run through Help for Heroes. It gives veterans a chance to volunteer and try something different.

“Myself, after 25 years in the Army I was pretty institutionalised in my way of thinking, my way of dealing with people and all that kind of stuff. There was a teacher from a school in Chippenham who came along and effectively gave me the opportunity to volunteer with her through Forest Schools.”

Mike, long skilled in bushcraft and survival, was so impressed by what he saw that he decided to found his own.

Forest Schools are a network of independent organisations which traces its origins to post-World War Two Scandinavia.

“They had a baby boom but a lack of places to educate them, so they started going to the forests. What they started to notice was that academically children were improving in a way which was vastly superior to many other countries.

“It was the ability to learn and grow naturally in a natural environment. Nothing was forced on them – it was all natural. Children were coming in and saying, ‘I’ve got to go because the clouds are changing.’

“They were learning the signs. Things that we now have weathermen for, they learned themselves.

“We in Britain are slow to take things up, but we’ve got hold of the concept and it’s starting to grow. You’ll find Forest Schools near enough everywhere now in one form or another.”

Green Tree Forest School caters for children of all ages from toddlers onwards - the youngest come along with their parents.

Depending on age, they are taught a range of skills including foraging and making camp.

They are also taught that contrary to certain aspects of video game culture, knives and fire are tools, not weapons.

“Yesterday I had a five-year-old making a fire. I was just watching him the whole time – obviously, you’ve got to be there – and for about an hour he was in his own thoughts, concentrating on that fire.

“It was just him, that fire and the oneness with his natural surroundings, and that’s a beautiful thing to see.

“How often do children just stop and think? They don’t, because we don’t let them. We think they need to be entertained 24/7 but actually they sometimes need to stop and have a moment of clarity.”

Mike has another organisation, Spartan Survival, which caters to adults, including groups from workplaces.

“We run one course which we call Are You Tough Enough? It’s nothing taxing, I don’t think, but it comes from a real scenario I’ve been in.

“With minimal kit you’ve got to make a fire, you’ve got to make a shelter and you’ve got to survive for 24 hours – not very long.

“I’ve had people come on that course – they work in an office environment – and when they come away from that environment, the best phrase that sums it all up is: ‘This is just getting back to living. No phones, no stupidity, no emails, no being able to get hold of me 24/7. I’m in the woods and I’m just living my life.’”

Further information about both organisations can be found at greentreesforestschools.co.uk and spartansurvival.co.uk