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Restoring the link between people and woodlands

Bangor University study reveals interesting results

6 September 2018

Under tall tree canopies in Wales there are people enjoying woodland walks, campfire cooking, outdoor crafts, conservation and mindfulness activities. And the difference this is making to their lives is tangible.

Early results from a three-year study by Bangor University are revealing the positive impact on health and wellbeing when people get out and about in the woods. The study by Heli Gittins based on Actif Woods Wales programme run by Coed Lleol, (Small Woods Wales) is revealing interesting findings.

Heli Gittins, PhD Researcher, School of Natural Sciences at Bangor University, said:

“Thank you to everyone who has taken part in the Actif Woods Wales research – it has been truly wonderful meeting you all and visiting all the different projects. I’ve been pond dipping at Ynys-Hir nature reserve in Ceredigion where we found a newt, eating campfire chilli wraps at Skewen in Neath Port Talbot and learning about how the brain works and doing some mindfulness practice at Cyfarthfa Park in Merthyr Tydfil, to name but a few!”

Baseline questionnaires, follow up interviews and focus groups with 95 participants so far are beginning to show connections with woodland activities, confidence and career building. The fact that programme participants are aged over 25, long-term unemployed or economically inactive, and either experiencing a work limiting health condition, are a carer or aged over 54 years, makes these early results even more profound. The PhD study also highlights the key role of professional mentorship by Coed Lleol staff who run Actif Woods Wales programmes on behalf of Small Woods in Wales.

Amie Andrews, Coed Lleol Manager, said:

Coed Lleol are proud to support woodland wellbeing research by Bangor University at a crucial time when GP interest in social prescribing is growing. Woodlands offer tangible and life-changing benefits to all, including nurturing confidence, community, exercise and skill development, particularly to those with work limiting health conditions. We hope that this research will help us to develop our programme, offer opportunities for future partnership and crucially change people’s lives through woodland activities.”

Research on the benefits of taking a dose of nature are well established. However, how woodland programmes impact on people’s longer-term behaviour and habits around independent use of the countryside is less well known. With expert guidance from Bangor University’s Schools of Natural Sciences (Dr Sophie Wynne-Jones) and Psychology (Dr Val Morrison), this study aims to reveal new knowledge. The study also hopes to inform organisations such as the Woodland Trust, woodland owners and health agencies about promoting the use of woodlands to increase the well-being of the nation.

Christine Tansey, Research and Evidence Co-ordinator at the Woodland Trust, said.

“Heli Gittins’ research is of great interest to the Woodland Trust. Our goal is to see a UK rich in woods and trees for people and wildlife, and this research partnership with Coed Lleol will help improve our understanding of the ways in which people can benefit from woodland. Evidence from this study will also reveal how the independent use of woods may change through participating in woodland activities, information which we can use to inform our work.

This study is funded by KESS (Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships) and the Woodland Trust. It was first introduced in the Small Woods Magazine in Summer 2017, on page 5 (click photo below to open pdf). Research will finish in October 2019 when a report with become available.

Find out more about woodland health and wellbeing research.

Small Woods Magazine (Summer 2017, p5): Woods and well-being – research sets out to measure benefits.