Health & Wellbeing Projects

Volunteers at Coatham Marsh, Teesside

It may seem obvious to some of us, but an increasing body of research shows that spending time outdoors and enjoying nature is good for us. A new report, Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside, is the latest to endorse this view. The Wildlife Trusts run a range of projects across the country designed to help improve physical and mental health and contribute to a sense of well-being. We work in partnership with local NHS Trusts and health charities such as Mind to offer access to nature as part of the therapeutic process. Here are some past and present projects to illustrate different approaches.


For further info about the launch of Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside see


Communities and Nature

Avon Wildlife Trust

The Communities and Nature programme aims to improve health and well-being, increase self confidence and social skills, reduce social isolation of marginalised communities (including young people, people with mental health or learning disabilities and refugees) and communities with higher indices of deprivation. It will deliver four outcomes:

  • People from vulnerable groups (refugees, learning disabilities and mental health) will be less isolated, feel more included with improved health and well-being
  • Young people not in employment or training will have improved self confidence, better life skills and have improved health and well-being
  • Low income families and elders in socially deprived communities will have improved access to a better quality natural environment, increasing their quality of life
  • Communities with higher indices of deprivation will be more cohesive with more people involved in creating a better environment

The project has been designed so that it can leave a legacy with the communities that become involved, if it is not possible to continue to fund it longer term.  This includes delivering improvements to the natural environments within communities (so that health and well-being can be sustainably improved for residents) and ensuring that people from marginalised communities that become involved have opportunities to engage with other community activities and organisations.

Enhancing the healing environment (EHE) project
with Devon Partnership NHS Trust

Devon Wildlife Trust

DWT has been doing inspiring work with an in-patient dementia ward at a local hospital in Exeter.  As part of the Enhancing the Healing Environment Project, Devon WT provided a range of photos of wildlife and landscapes around Devon.  They worked with the patients to identify images that were meaningful and important to them, and these are now displayed all around the ward – in large scale, with some in wonderful light boxes. Now they are now working with the hospital to develop a wildlife garden.

PLANT - Peckham Learning and Nature Team (London)

London Wildlife Trust

One of the Mind's Ecominds projects, this scheme was set up to benefit adults suffering from stress and depression, run from the Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham.Three month placements were offered for up to 24 people, with particular emphasis on those from BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities.

This scheme offered access to nature, aiming to improve quality of life for participants through increased social interaction and physical exercise. Now Plant! has finished, the Centre runs Potted History – reminiscence and horticulture sessions for people suffering from early onset Alzheimers and dementia – four days a week. It also runs Growing Out – a project aimed at adults with special needs – which nurtures skills and integrates them back into the workplace over the course of a year. 

Idle Valley Ecominds Project (Nottinghamshire)

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

For all our volunteers the project is a chance to meet new people, learn new skills and build self-esteem.

A series of schemes which encourage outdoor activity for those with long-term mental health problems. Based at the Idle Valley  Rural Learning Centre near Retford in north Nottinghamshire, the project aims to create a fun, friendly and safe place for people to meet and connect whilst learning about nature.

Volunteers taking part can get involved with regular exercise through a range of conservation, horticulture and wildlife gardening tasks, which work as a form of therapy and is recognised as being as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate anxiety and depression.

The project was funded by Mind, and hopes to secure future funding to continue to bring people together and offer an alternative to traditional therapy methods.

Cockney Sparrow Project (London)

London Wildlife Trust (in association with the Peabody Housing Associates).

Putting the house sparrow back into the heart of London by engaging residents of Peabody's estates with the nature of their neighbourhood. The project, launched in 2009, also acted as an important catalyst for community well-being.

Based on eight Peabody estates across London, Cockney Sparrow has enabled residents to enjoy and learn about London's wildlife through a range of wildlife activities, both practical and interactive. It sought to improve housing estate landscapes to benefit sparrows and other wildlife, and in doing so, helped overcome barriers between cultures and generations as people connected through the project. Families started to lead more active lifestyles, and to explore and benefit from London's green spaces. Participants as young as two and as old as 96 learned new skills and made new friendships.

You can watch a film about the project below:


The Wellbeing Programme (Wiltshire)

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust

Running since 2008, in partnership with NHS Wiltshire, providing support for people suffering from mental and emotional stress. The programme is available to anyone experiencing issues such as persistent low mood, depression, anxiety or long-term mental health conditions. The Wellbeing programme is available through local GPs and health practitioners or via self-referral.

The Wellbeing team takes people closer to nature through outdoor activities such as wild food walks, art in nature sessions, meadow clearance, tree felling, fence builing and wod crafts (making spoons, bowls and flower carving). They also deliver specialised support for those that need it by signposting to additional help and training.

Budding Together (London)

London Wildlife Trust

Budding Together has now successfully trained and supported up to 80 mental health service users

Offered mental health service users the opportunity to get up close to nature and work in a naturally therapeutic environment. It was funded by Ecominds - members of the group were ‘buddied-up’ with a trainer for activities such as birdwatching and bat box making, aimed at improving their natural surroundings as well as their mental well-being.

Michelle Hussey, community project officer at London Wildlife Trust's Camley Street nature reserve in Camden, said: "When people feel down or stressed they will often head to the park for a walk - this shows how therapeutic the natural environment is for people. We are taking this to the next level by introducing people more intimately to the wildlife species on their doorstep, and using these experiences to address distressing and ongoing health problems."
The trust works with local primary care trusts to provide volunteering opportunities and health walks for people with mental health
The Inclusive Volunteering Project (Tees Valley)

Tees Valley Wildlife Trust

One of the self-referred
volunteers says: I love it,
absolutely love it. There’s
such a sense of achievement from building something like this. I go home at night absolutely pooped, thinking I’ve done a great job.

The sound of cheerful banter blows across Coatham Marsh on Teesside as a group of volunteers digs out turf and piles it against a structure they’ve spent
three weeks completing (see main picture). Soon they’ll be finished and, with luck, sand martins and bats will move in. These are no ordinary volunteers. They’re the central players in a study by Tees Valley Wildlife Trust that proves the mental health benefits of volunteering outdoors. At Coatham Marshes and across 14 reserves in Teesside, volunteers work together to maintain the local habitat and encourage wildlife to the river. The project welcomes anyone, whether young, old, retired or student. The Trust have run this Inclusive Volunteering Project for many years and have worked with mixed groups of people, both those suffering from poor mental health and others unaffected by it, using their green spaces, the social aspects of volunteering and the tasks of conservation work to improve everyone’s wellbeing, self-esteem and create a positive social experience.

Over the past year they have conducted the first stage of an evaluation to identify exactly what the impacts of our work are for the people involved. The findings enabled the Trust to develop their own wellbeing assessment which could also allow other Trusts engaging in similar projects to demonstrate impact to service users, the wider community and funders.

Brownsea Island Conservation Project (Dorset)

Dorset Wildlife Trust (in association with the Poole branch of the Richmond Fellowship)

It felt good doing something for the wildlife and the community

This project offers people from the Bournemouth Church Housing Association a chance to volunteer at Brownsea Island Nature Reserve. Groups tackle a wide variety of jobs, and those that join in find fresh air, hard work and growing confidence a great help for coping with mental illness.

One Dorset volunteer said: "We had to cut down rhododendrons, which are not good for the wildlife on the island. Once we all got stuck into cutting them down, it quickly turned into a lot of fun - hard but fun. It felt good doing something for the wildlife and the community."

Natural Health Service (Cheshire)

Cheshire Wildlife Trust

The Trust is a partner in the ‘Natural Health Service’ for Halton. They will be offering activities in the community park in Runcorn where they look after the ex-local authority visitor centre (walks, volunteering.). The Natural Health Service provides new ways of improving physical and mental health through Halton’s wealth of green spaces. The service will run for a period of twelve weeks, between September and December 2013. Who is this for? The activities are suitable for children and adults, families and those with carers - in fact, there’s something for everyone. They offer a range of activities, from walking and enjoying nature, through to practical activities such as gardening or participating in a “green gym”.

Living Roots, Open Spaces (Warwickshire)

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust

As part of an Ecominds Project, the Trust has created a partnership with the mental health charity Mind in Solihull, which has been involved in running educational wildlife-themed sessions for mental health service users.Warwickshire Trust’s Youth Engagement Officer, Simon Phelps, has run a variety of sessions including wildlife photography classes and invertebrate house building for those involved at the Parkridge Centre Reserve in Solihull.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust (Northumberland)

Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Working with the St Georges Environmental Conservation Group to encourage people to get outdoors and conserve local wildlife on nearby nature reserves. Community programmes and activities including nature walks, educational talks and a range of practical volunteering groups take place at local open spaces such as Kieder Forest, Druridge Pools, Big Waters and St Nicholas Park. These groups give training and support to people who want to work to maintain and improve their own local landscapes. Tom Bell, who takes part in the scheme, said "Volunteering offers me the chance to go somewhere and do something different I would not have done if I remained at home all day."

Coastal Discovery Project

Suffolk Wildlife Trust

The Coastal Discovery (COD) Project, funded by Young Roots (Heritage Lottery Fund) offers beach taster sessions to 6-12 week programmes of inclusive outdoor activities for young people (between 11-25 years) throughout the year. Local beaches, woodlands and nature reserves are explored through creative and challenging activities that benefit learners in personal and social ways as well as deepening their knowledge and connection to the natural world around them. Practical habitat management tasks, creative outdoor art sessions, wildlife surveys, team building games, bush craft skills and visits to marine-themed attractions (e.g. maritime museum) lead to enriched experiences for the those taking part.

Woodland Therapy

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

In November 2013, at H&IoWWT’s Isle of Wight education centre, people with mental health issues will have the opportunity to experience forest school.  This project aims to use the natural environment to promote physical and mental health and wellbeing through the Forest School programme, supporting adults by raising self-confidence and self-esteem through access to nature and learning new skills.

Forest school is a programme of repeated visits to an outdoor setting, usually a woodland, where the same group of participants take part in a range of activities which are split into achievable tasks with the intention of raising  self-confidence and self-esteem.  Sessions are participant led, promoting problem-solving skills, independent learning and self-confidence.   Developed in Sweden in the 1950s, the benefits of Forest School are well documented and the system is used to support children’s learning from a young age in many European countries, with Denmark being the centre of development.  Forest School was brought to Britain in the 1990’s by Bridgewater College and is used by many LEA’s to promote positive attitudes to learning and healthy living.  Children who have access to Forest School become independent, self-confident learners, giving them a positive approach to challenges; the ability to recognise and manage risk; and the ability to manage their behaviour.  Children who miss out on such activities can become trapped in cycles of negative behaviour or low self-esteem, moving into adult life without having these issues addressed.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust brought Forest School to the Isle of Wight in 2006, being the first Level 3 trained Forest School leaders on the Island.  It has worked with many hundreds of students over the years, including young people with behavioural disorders and / or special educational needs from mainstream schools, the county Referral Unit and with St Catherine’s, St George’s and Medina House Special Schools.  This wealth of experience with deprived and /or disengaged youngsters and ithe Wildlife Trust's expertise in helping students to access the natural world through innovative and inspiring activities sets it apart from other providers.  It holds the Quality Badge for Learning Outside the Classroom.