Most of us would agree that a walk in the outdoors is the best thing for reducing stress but have you ever wondered why this might be the case?
In 2013 renowned psychologist Margot Sunderland announced findings of a study she undertook into psychological effects of nature on children, particularly those living in stressful conditions.
She discovered that spending 15 minutes in a natural space is enough to make chemical changes occur in the frontal lobe of the brain which is where the stress hormone cortisol, which collects when we are under emotional strain, is replaced by dopamine which restores calm.
Ms Sunderland found that not only does nature remove stress, it improves memory, problem solving abilities and attention span, and both child and adult brains function more effectively after being exposed to nature.
Taking this into account, education officers at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight wildlife Trust set up The Woodland Therapy Project in Bouldnor Forest Nature Reserve on the Isle of Wight.
Already running a very full Forest School programme teaching with a range of client groups about nature and skills, education officers were aware of the benefits of the Forest School approach in building self-asteem, self-confidence and independence.
The project has been extremely successful and has received funding to take it to its second year.
Sessions are always held outdoors and are lead by the clients. In a typical session, the group will begin by putting up the “basha” (rain shelter), splitting fire wood, building and lighting the fire, preparing lunch, making hot drinks and working on their green woodwork projects. Activities have included making bird feeders, whistles, window boxes, back scratchers and beautifully carved sycamore spoons.
Kathy Grogan from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust said: This project has been really successful and we have had some fantastic feedback from those who have attended.
“Clients make the effort to come along even when they are feeling low and struggling to get out of the house because they know they will feel better once they are at the reserve.
“Anyone not feeling able to socialise with the group is free to relax by the campfire or take a quiet walk in the woods or to the beach.”
“Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has joined a national trend to recognise and talk about mental health issues and it is hoped this project will be extended to the rest of the Island and Hampshire which will not only give people the opportunity to learn about nature, but experience the therapeutic benefits too.”
“The sessions and the schedule are very much client-led. For example, clients have said that holiday time is very difficult because services stop running and it becomes a lot harder for them to access support. We decided they would be best served if we cut the traditional holidays short so they could get more support from us during these times.”
Funding is provided by the NHS, as the Woodland Therapy Project acts as a support group with additional benefits that promote a feelng of calm where people can learn new skills.