Reaping the health and wellbeing benefits of woodlands

One of a previous courses participants building a fire.
One of a previous courses participants building a fire.

Participants of Forestry Commission Scotland’s (FCS) Branching Out programme are celebrating after successfully completing the 12-week mental health and wellbeing programme at the Braehead Orchard in Crossford.

The group of eight attended an award ceremony on Friday, August 10 in the orchard, where they received certificates acknowledging their achievements. All participants also received the John Muir Discovery award.

Delivered by CCI Scotland, Branching Out is an FCS award-winning adult mental health project which is designed to improve people’s confidence, mental wellbeing, and communication skills through a range of outdoor activities.

The programme reached its 10-year anniversary in May and is estimated to have helped over 2,000 people across Scotland.

Nathalie Moriarty, Forestry Commission Scotland’s Branching Out manager, said: “Branching Out is a hugely successful programme and it’s amazing to see the results it has delivered over the last 10 years. It can be life changing for those who take part, they feel more confident and have developed better communication skills to go on and enjoy other local activities which help ensure they continue to move forward on the work they have already achieved.”

Adopting a holistic, person-centred approach promoting ‘five ways to better mental health’, Branching Out takes place in forests, woodlands and other green spaces. Participants take part in a range of activities covering key areas such as bushcraft skills, practical conservation, physical activity, creativity and environmental art, and personal development or learning.

Led by qualified Branching Out leaders, participants benefit from the project’s clear routine, structure and non-clinical setting and enjoy three hours of woodland activities a week with each session adapted to meet the needs of each individual group.

Elspeth Crawford, social enterprise support worker at CCI Scotland, said: “This year’s Branching Out has been fantastic – the participants have really connected with the orchard site, and undertaking the John Muir award as part of the programme has encouraged them to explore the outdoors and get involved in activities including foraging, green woodwork and willow weaving, as well as learning to use kelly kettles and making lunch over the fire each week.

“Participants have commented that being outdoors, having the opportunity to connect with their surroundings and to “give back” to nature through the John Muir award has significantly increased their wellbeing, with some already having plans in place for their next steps to recovery.”

Originally developed and funded by FCS, the success of the programme has enabled FCS to pass the structured model onto partner organisations and provide an outdoor training and accreditation programme for leaders, which has been endorsed by the Institute for Outdoor Learning and NHS Health Scotland.

Forestry Commission Scotland is now working with 22 partners in 10 NHS board areas delivering up to 50 projects a year.