Woodland gym’ll fix it for health risk patients

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A plan for doctors to refer some patients to their local woodland in an attempt to improve their health and fitness has been launched.

The new initiative, called Forest and Mountain Gym (Actif Woods Wales – Coed Actif Cymru), aims to encourage people at risk of developing chronic ill-health to take part in a range of activities at Cwm Saerbren in Treherbert, Rhondda Fawr.

As part of the Forest and Mountain Gym sessions, a qualified personal trainer will lead weekly classes at the Welsh Government woodland, which has been transformed into an outdoor gym to help people get in shape and live longer.

Actif Woods Wales was set up by Coed Lleol, a partnership of woodland organisations including Forestry Commission Wales which wants to help more people to enjoy and care for woodlands in Wales.

The gym is part of a wider programme which aims to encourage people with chronic health conditions who don’t usually visit woodlands to do so for health and well-being benefits.

It was set up with the help of volunteers from a BTCV Environmental Group who have been developing spaces for the woodland gym, repairing footpaths and carrying out a variety of conservation work such as clearing regenerating conifer and invasive rhododendron from the area.

Under the guidance of Coed Lleol and BTCV staff, the volunteers learn a range of skills in traditional hand tool use and how to carry out risk assessments, with a view to gaining OCN qualifications.

Coed Lleol is working with local organisations, such as Rhondda Housing Association and Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, to refer clients to the groups.
The group also aims to work with the National Exercise Referral Scheme to accept patients who’ve been referred by their GPs for exercise programmes, for health reasons. 

Mike James, Forestry Commission Wales community ranger who helped to establish the initiative, said, “The aim is to provide a friendly and stress-free environment for people to improve their health and well-being outdoors with the help of a qualified trainer, and to appreciate their local woodlands.

“We hope people will be referred by GPs or local voluntary health organisations tackling issues such as obesity, high blood pressure or mental health problems.”

BTCV Environmental Group has created small open spaces for the fitness classes, which are on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and put in benches and posts for the group to use.

Participants are able to experience a variety of activities imitating those in an indoor gym, such as rolling logs instead of weight training and throwing ropes over strong branches to do pull ups.

The gym supports the Woodlands for Wales Action Plan, which aims to help more people live healthier lives as a result of their use and enjoyment of woodlands, and the Welsh Government’s strategy, “Our Healthy Future”, which seeks to foster, “healthy, sustainable communities”.

Ceri Nicholas, Coed Lleol project officer, said, “We’re happy to be working with partner agencies to develop healthy activities for people in such a scenic setting, while carrying out useful, practical work to support the management of the SSSI, at the same time.

“We’re also hoping that the development of the site will lead to the community having better access to the woodland area in Cwmsaebren.”

Both the Forest and Mountain Gym and the BTCV Environment Group meet at Treherbert Railway station. Anyone interested in joining the gym should contact Martyn Broughton on 07952 607520 or Ceri Nicholas on 07758 230280 for the Environment Group.

The Forest and Mountain Gym takes place on Tuesdays between 11am and 1pm; the Environment Group meets on Thursdays between 12:30 and 3:30.

Treherbert is one of two areas in Wales designated as high need where Actif Woods Wales is working to help people lead healthier lives, the other being Aberystwyth, in mid-Wales.

Caption: Members of the Forest and Mountain Gym get in shape at Cwm Saerbren.


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
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on

Visit News@FCWales for news, images, press office contact details and links to case studies.

For more information on the woodland gym, contact Mike James on 0300 068 0225, mobile 07825 843 253, email

Press office contact: Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email