Improving mental health at local wood

The 12 week outdoor activity programme designed to improve the health and well-being of adults with long-term mental health problems.
The 12 week outdoor activity programme designed to improve the health and well-being of adults with long-term mental health problems.

A group of nine people are celebrating after completing Forestry Commission Scotland’s 12 week Branching Out programme at Dunnottar Woodlands, Stonehaven.

The group attended an award ceremony acknowledging their achievements and received certificates recognising the completion of the course, an innovative 12 week outdoor activity programme designed to improve the health and well-being of adults with long-term mental health problems.

Six participants also received the John Muir Discovery Award.

Branching Out focuses on a number of activities, including conservation, bushcraft, environmental art and physical activities.

The course is designed to help build confidence, increase physical activity and achieve greater independence. Each course is adapted by the programme leader to meet the needs of each individual groups.

Nathalie Moriarty, Forestry Commission Scotland, Branching Out Programme Manager said:

“Branching Out is a hugely successful programme that helps people onto a new path, where they start participating and integrating with society again. Everybody who takes part is encouraged to get involved in other local activities to ensure they continue moving forward with their progress. It can be life changing.

“The programme includes walks in the woodland, tree surveys, map reading, and more laid-back activities such as arts and crafts, building shelters and bird boxes, and willow weaving.”

Participants receive three hours of woodland based activities once a week for the duration of the course with an Occupational Therapist and qualified Branching Out Leader.

Alasdair Taylor, Branhcing Out Leader and Executive Director, Earth for Life, said: “Branching Out is effective because it has a structure that offers people a consistent approach to getting out, being active and interacting with other people. The programme sits really well within the partnership between us and Pillar Kincardine and allows us to work with people who are facing emotional, social or mental health difficulties.”

Moira Hurry, Service Manager from Pillar Kincardine said: ““Pillar Kincardine are delighted to have been involved in a locally delivered, innovative and worthwhile project which offered our members the opportunity to engage with their local green space and opened their eyes to new, exciting possibilities.” “Over the 12 week project the participants enjoyed learning interesting new skills whilst experiencing a tremendous sense of team spirit, overall the experience has had a positive effect on their confidence and self-esteem.”

Pioneered by Forestry Commission Scotland in 2007, Branching Out has helped over 1800 people across Scotland since its inception with 78% of participants successfully completing the programme. Participants report increased levels of health, well-being and self-esteem, learn new skills and increase their exercise levels through a range of outdoor activities delivered in a group setting in the woodlands.

Branching Out was initially run and funded directly by FCS. However, its success has enabled the Commission to pass the structured model onto partner organisations, such as local authority ranger services and environmental charities, and provide an outdoor training and accreditation programme for leaders, which has been approved by NHS Health Scotland and the Institute for Outdoor Learning. Forestry Commission Scotland is now working with 22 partners in 10 NHS health board areas including NHS Grampian to deliver up to 42 projects per year.

Nathalie Moriarty added:

“Branching Out is an excellent example of effective partnership working. Each organisation that commits to the programme brings additional skills and expertise, meaning that participants benefit from a joined up approach that offers them consistency and a sustainable route to recovery.”