News, stories and reports from Forestry Commission Scotland and the National Forest Estate

Woodland makeover for University Ayr and Ailsa

A four year project at University Hospital Ayr and Ailsa has transformed the hospital grounds into a place for people to use for physical activity, relaxation and recuperation.

teaching circle

The University Hospital Ayr and Ailsa was chosen as a demonstration site for the area to showcase the health and wellbeing benefits that can be gained from investing in, and managing greenspace around hospitals and healthcare centres. 

Dr Carol Davidson, Director of Public Health NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said:  “When Ailsa Hospital opened in 1869, spending time in the outdoors and being in the fresh air was seen as central elements of recovery and care. However, the post war period saw a move away from nature as part of rehabilitation and recovery towards a greater reliance on technology and therefore buildings and indoor environments."

We are working hard with the NHS as part of the Greening the NHS Estate Programme to reverse that. This ambitious project has brought neglected woodland back into sustainable management. The extensive area of woodland, meadow and grassland now has a clear purpose as an asset for improving health and wellbeing for patients, staff, visitors and the local community. Around 2,500 news trees have been planted.

Previously the site had paths that were too steep for many users, and often muddy. A network of new paths covering over 3.5km has been created to make best use of the site's features such as the wildflower meadows and viewpoints. The paths are wide and well surfaced, making them suitable for everyone. There's also a new 1km Sustrans cycle route. 26 new seats have been installed for sitting and enjoying nature, and there are therapeutic programmes in the woods including health walks and opportunities for Tai Chi and wildlife viewing. Chainsaw-carved seating has also been added as 'secret places' to find.

children playing

Since these improvements were created, monitoring has shown that more people are now visiting and using these woodland paths, including the on site Busy Bees nursery.

Nursery on path

Staff report that they are beginning to use the grounds for walking and relaxation and they are reporting mental health benefits from taking time away from busy wards to ‘de-stress and unwind’. 

Some staff are also using the paths for ‘walk and talk’ meetings with colleagues, whilst patients have commented that they find the paths and the spaces ‘peaceful and therapeutic’.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran worked in partnership with the Green Exercise Partnership (a joint venture between Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Health Scotland) on this project.  £550,000 funding was secured through the Scottish Government, NHS Endowments, Green Exercise Partnership and Sustrans.