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GPs are “prescribing” visits to local woodlands in Ceredigion as part of a radical new approach to help people improve their health and live longer.
The Aber Actif Woods project is funded by Forestry Commission Wales and is based on woodlands’ ability to improve health and well being by reducing stress and providing opportunities for exercise.
People with physical and mental health conditions have been referred by the National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) and mental health groups such as MIND in Aberystwyth for a variety of woodland-based activities.
The scheme is being run by Coed Lleol, a partnership project hosted by the Small Woods Association which aims to help people care and enjoy woodlands in Wales.
Activity leaders are preparing to launch a 16-week winter programme in local woodlands later this month, building on the success of spring and summer courses which saw more than 80 people seek the natural path to a healthier life.
The sessions, which are all free, are specially tailored for people with a variety of chronic health conditions such as depression, osteoarthritis, diabetes and heart problems.
They include activities such as Nordic walking, green woodworking skills, bushcraft skills, plant and animal identification, fire-lighting – or simply walking in and enjoying the woodlands.
Zena Wilmot, Coed Lleol Partnership Co-ordinator, said, “We all know that exercise is good for us, but going to the gym to get fit isn’t for everyone.
“This project has shown that walking or being active in woodlands really can improve health and reduce stress at the same time as building interests, developing skills and having lots of fun.”
The sessions are held at Welsh Government woodlands managed by Forestry Commission Wales at Gogerddan and Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian, the Woodland Trust’s Coed Geufron near Glan-yr-Afon, Aberystwyth and at the Ceredigion County Council local nature reserve, Penglais Woods.
ME sufferer Mair Jones from Aberystwyth said, “I have gained much benefit in having a regular outdoor activity arranged on a weekly basis.
“It has now become part of my weekly routine and doesn’t depend on the weather, as sheltering in the woods on a rainy day with company is all part of the fun.”
The recently-completed summer sessions included referrals from Penparcau Family Centre and Sure Start, which aims to give children the best possible start in life, and focused on healthy eating to prevent health problems in later life.
Forestry Commission Wales Education Officer Leigh Denyer, who delivered some of the activities, said, “The aim is to link support organisations and health professionals with our woodlands by encouraging people with a range of chronic health issues to use woodlands in new and interesting ways to improve their health and well being.
“By connecting people with their local woodlands in this way, we hope they will continue to be active in the outdoors after the end of the project, resulting in long-term health benefits.”
Ceredigion is one of two pilot areas in Wales (along with Treherbert in South Wales) where Coed Lleol is working with local organisations, groups and individuals from woodland, health and community development sectors to help people lead healthier lives.
Forestry Commission Wales, supported by the Countryside Council for Wales, will continue to fund Coed Lleol to deliver Actif Woods in both Aberystwyth and Treherbert and to prepare to roll out the scheme to other Welsh Government priority areas in Wales.
Caption: Participants in the summer sessions enjoy Nordic walking in Coed Geufron.
NOTES TO EDITORS
A total of 14.3 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
Coed Lleol is a partnership project hosted by the Smallwoods Association with a steering group of representatives from Forestry Commission Wales, Countryside Council for Wales, the Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, Tir Coed, the Health Service in Wales and representatives of community woodland groups and self employed foresters. The partnership’s overall aim is to help more people enjoy and care for woodlands in Wales. For more information visit www.coedlleol.org.uk
Interviews are available in English and Welsh and visits to the Actif Woods activity programmes can be arranged. Contact Zena Wilmot on 0845 456 0342 or email email@example.com
The National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) is funded by the Welsh Government and has been developed over the past three years to standardise exercise referral opportunities across all local authorities and local health boards in Wales. The scheme targets clients who have a chronic disease or are at risk of developing chronic disease.
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales
Visit News@FCWales for news, images, press office contact details and links to case studies.
Press office contact: Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email firstname.lastname@example.org