Woodland course used to help mental health issues in the Borders

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Yesterday a group of people using mental health services across the Borders took part in an award ceremony to celebrate completion of a 12 week woodland course.

Run by Borders Forest Trust for NHS Borders, it is the first time the course, which helps with confidence building and increasing physical activity, has been made available in the Borders.

Borders Forest Trust has received training and accreditation on how to run the woodland course by Forestry Commission Scotland.  Known as ‘Branching Out’, the Commission work with NHS boards to train new delivery partners to run the course especially designed for people with mental health issues.

Referred from community or hospital based mental health services, the participants mostly struggle with severe depression and anxiety.  The Commission worked with NHS Borders to identify suitable entrants, who undertake the programme voluntarily.

Participants received three hours of woodland based activities once a week for the past 12 weeks with a supervising mental health staff member who also took part. 

Activities included: physical exercise (health walks / tai chi), conservation activities (birch thinning), bushcraft (fire lighting / shelter building), environmental art (photography / willow sculptures) and learning (tree identification).

Ross Morrison from Galashiels took part in the course. He commented:

“I absolutely loved Branching Out. Each week we progressed onto bigger challenges so there was a real sense of achievement. One of the days we were tracking animals and saw a roe deer which was amazing. There was also a robin in the woodland where our sessions were held and it came out every day when we were having lunch; we saw so much wildlife.

“Branching Out got me out of the house and doing something active – if I hadn’t been on the course I would just have been at home watching TV. I haven’t done anything like this since I was at school, so I’ve loved every second of getting back outdoors.”

Kirsty Cathrine, Branching Out Programme manager at Forestry Commission Scotland said: “Branching Out is a hugely successful programme that helps people onto a new path where they start participating and integrating with society again – it can be life changing.”

Celebrating successful completion of the course, participants will today attend a ceremony, receiving a Discovery Level John Muir Award to mark their commitment and progress, with family and friends.  Participants are then sign posted to other local activities to keep them moving forward with their progress. 

Lisa Brydon, community woodland officer at Borders Forest Trust said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be running Branching Out and making it available to people living in the Borders.

“Many people with mental health difficulties can lead very isolated lives.  Encouraging the participants to get out and active has made a real difference to how they view themselves and the world around them.  The fun of being outside and learning new things in a woodland environment breathes new energy back into their lives.  From week to week we’ve seen participants grow in confidence which is what the course is all about.”

Set up in 2007, Branching Out is a flagship programme developed by Forestry Commission Scotland that delivers mental, physical and social benefits for people with mental health issues. 

The Commission currently works with NHS Borders, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Lothian to train new delivery partners to run Branching Out courses.

Notes to Editors

1. Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Scottish Government’s Environment & Forestry Directorate www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland
For news, events and recreation information log on to www.facebook.com/enjoyscotlandsforests or www.twitter.com/fcscotland

2.  The FCS agobair mar bhuidheann-stiùiridhcoilltearachdRiaghaltasna h-Alba agus a’ riaghladhnan 660,000 heactaireanann an OighreachdnaCoilleNàiseanta, a’ dìonadh, a’ cumailsmachd air agus a’ leudachadhnancoillteangusbuannachdan a thoirtdhacoimhearsnachdan, an eaconamaidhagus, agobair an aghaidhatharrachadhgnàth-shìde. www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland

3.  Media enquiries to Steve Williams, Forestry Commission Scotland press office 0131 314 6508. 

e-mail: steve.williams@forestry.gsi.gov.uk