Woodlands are good for you

Woodlands are good for you, that is the verdict from UK organisations who are branching out nationwide with the message that our bodies and minds will benefit from walking in woodlands, just like our own May's Wood, currently basking in glorious autumn colours.

Many people I talked to from the surrounding villages of Bere Regis and Shitterton, told me the wood is now really lifting their spirits. After a summer spurt, the three-year-old saplings have grown into beautiful young trees displaying diverse barks, with black, red and pink berries, tiny cones, bright luscious leaves and a promise of exciting things to come. Even in the late October sun, wildflowers are still blossoming, giving us splashes of pink, yellow and white through the long grasses covering the forest floor.

Well defined wide pathways are lined with young Cherry trees, Rowan, Spindle and Geulder Rose, which were planted to provide avenues of blossom in the Spring; Fifty per cent of this non-commercial forest is oak, scattered over 165 acres in clusters, leaving enough room for the Lime, Birch, Willow, Aspen, Alder, Hazel, Medlar, Crab Apple, Hawthorne, Sweet Chestnut, Wayfaring, Holly and Yew trees to flourish and spread their own personality in this community space for all.

Research has shown that regular connection with trees relieves stress and improves well-being. In the light of growing evidence contained in reports from The Woodland Trust, NHS Forest and the Forestry Commission, among many others  (links below) , initiatives to help people overcome health problems and schemes to encourage outdoor learning for children have been introduced throughout the UK.

NHS Forest works with health organisations to open up their green spaces to local communities and promote better use of the natural environment for patients and staff.  They have around 170 sites in England, Wales and Scotland, aiming for sustainable outcomes for people with anxiety, obesity and heart-related conditions in particular.

Dr Dan Bloomfield, author of the Dose of Nature report promotes nature as a modern alternative medicine and he talked about nature prescription on the BBC1 Breakfast Show recently.

The Woodland Trust tells us that our forest planting is at an all-time low, with the woodland cover in the UK at just 13%, which is the lowest in Europe. To combat this they are aiming to plant 64 million trees before 2025 with an ambitious campaign. 

Last year the government missed its planting targets by 86%, but with private companies like Ikea and Sainsbury's and charities like Dr Brian May's Save Me (who planted 100,000 saplings in 2013/14 in May's Wood ) this urgent need is being addressed before our woods and trees start to disappear 

That's good news for the future of our young children, many who are currently enjoying the opportunity to get out of the classroom and into woodlands to explore the natural world with a Forest School practitioner. Their specialised learning approach sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland education and ticks many boxes in the science & art  categories of the national curriculum.

The Forest School  Association was set up in 2012 to provide support and learning material for practitioners across the UK. Their website contains examples of how children can thrive in a woodland environment from the teachers who observed them.

" I spent weeks in parallel playing, working with a young girl (4) who had chosen not to speak to any adults at her nursery since she had started six months previously. We painted trees with water, pretended to be birds, and watched slugs and snails making their slow way around the woods. In Week 6, I noticed her watching a tree intently. Moving closer, I saw that she was holding a snail up to a thick trail of ants that was streaming up the tree. As if it was the most unremarkable thing in the world,  she asked me  ‘Why aren’t they scared?’ She spoke to me three more times during that session. Over the next few weeks, more and more of the staff heard her voice . . . and she’s still talking!" Aline Hill reported.

"I don’t have ADHD when I`m out in the woods." David aged 14

Adults can check out a local Wildlife Trust for organised walks.  The Dorset Wildlife Trust, for example, are currently making plans to have regular Nature For Health Walks. www.dorsetwildtrust.org.uk. 

The Bere Regis Strollers have their own regular health walks, which often takes in May's Wood, sitting between ancient heathland and the rolling downs of the beautiful Dorset countryside.

So it's time get ready for the winter months ahead with some sturdy boots, warm waterproofs and a rucksack packed with some snacks and drinks.  Fresh air, fun and a resurgence of energy await you. It's the perfect tonic for a pick me up, so why not take your health into your own hands (and feet) and get walking in a wood near you.

In the next feature, we'll share some recipes to entice you to go foraging as you wander.  In the meantime, here are a couple to tease you into the idea of making the most of what nature provides. With thanks to the Vegan Recipe Club and the Woodland Trust for the links.

POTATO & NETTLE SOUP - An autumn and winter warmer! Recipe here

ROSE HIP SYRUP - Good for our bones! Rose hips are the red and orange seed pods of wild rose plants commonly found in hedgerows. How to use it: the hips have a fleshy covering that contains the hairy seeds (the irritant hairs were traditionally used by schoolboys to make itching powder). The outer layer is packed with vitamin C and they are renowned for helping stave off winter colds. They are good for wines, jellies, jams and can be used to make a delicately flavoured rosehip syrup for cordial or pouring onto ice cream or pancakes. What to look for: look for bright red rosehips from September to November along hedgerows and woodland fringes. Snip or carefully pull the hips close to the base of each pod (to avoid being attacked by prickly thorns). 


Healthy Woods, Healthy Lives 

Evidence, policy & practice  

Forest Schools 

Dorset Wildlife Trust

May’s Wood 

Article and Pictures by Linda Lamon Copyright 2016