The primary objective of the Woodlands For Health programme is to improve the quality of life for adults who experience enduring mental-ill health in the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown area by engaging them in activities in a woodland environment.
Research has shown that engagement with nature through outdoor activities can have a significant positive impact on peoples mental health and well-being. The concept of using woodlands in other European countries particularly in Scotland has grown rapidly over the last twenty years as a form of Eco Therapy. Research has shown that exposure to the natural environment reduces stress and anxiety. When people are in natural surroundings, physical activity releases endorphins which in turn help fight depression.
What does the programme involve:
- 12 weeks of walks in various woodland settings– same time and day each week
- Set meeting place for bus pick-up
- Walk location differs each week – start in parks to lead to mountain trails
- Lunch is provided and had during the walk
- Walks led by an experienced DMP Ranger supported by Cluain Mhuire staff and local volunteers
- 3 hours of activities in a woodland setting
- Includes elements of gentle exercise, a talk on the environment, environmental art and relaxation
Woodlands For Health is an innovative development initiated in 2012 by Charlie Burke Recreation Officer at Coillte (The Irish Forestry Board). A Project Plan was prepared based on consultation with staff from the Scottish Forestry Commissions multi award winning Branching Out project. The project is a programme prescribed by medical professionals of forest based activities for mental health patients and monitors there progress over set periods.
The pilot programme based in Wicklow was developed by Coillte in partnership with the HSE/Wicklow Mental Health Services, Wicklow Mental Health Association and Mental Health Ireland.
The programme has provided weekly walks, nature talks for more than 140 service users who are referred to the programme by Ita Kelly (HSE – Community Mental-Health Nurse) from the East Wicklow area over the past 4 years. Participants travel by bus to Coillte Forest Trails in East Wicklow, the weekly walks are led by Charlie Burke (Coillte), Ita Kelly and project volunteers.
In 2016 the project was evaluated by the HSE and University College Dublin, which found that participants improved their mood by 75 per cent, sleep quality by 66 per cent; in addition, their thoughts of suicide declined by 82 per cent.
Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Sports Partnership approached Coillte in February 2016 and were interested in progressing the concept of Woodlands For Health.
Woodlands For Health has shown very impressive returns for very moderate investment and has the potential to deliver significant benefits in health and well-being improvement across the country for investment of relatively moderate resources.