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

Woodland mental health programme celebrates helping nearly 1,800 people

Our innovative Branching Out programme recently celebrated a milestone with 200 groups (nearly 1,800 people) having completed the programme since 2007.

branching out          

Branching Out is a 12-week outdoor activity programme designed to improve the health and well-being of adults with long-term mental health problems.  The programme is held in forests and woodlands, facilitated by trained outdoor leaders, to help participants improve their confidence, self-esteem and communications skills. 

Participants enjoy three hours of woodland based activities once a week, including physical exercise through walks and T'ai Chi, conservation activities, such as habitat creation and nest box building, bushcraft, environmental art and outdoor learning, such as tree and bird identification.

 Branching out group

Nathalie Moriarty, Branching Out Programme Manager at Forestry Commission Scotland, said: “This is a fantastic achievement – we’re very proud to have reached such a significant milestone, supporting so many people across Scotland.  Branching Out is a hugely successful programme that helps people onto a new path, where they start participating and integrating with society again.  Everybody who takes part is encouraged to get involved in other local activities to ensure they continue moving forward with their progress.  It can be life changing.”

Participants on the 200th group were referred by the Fife Employment Access Trust (FEAT), a charity that helps people with mental health problems secure employment.  The course was delivered by New Caledonian Woodlands at Silverburn Park in Leven, Fife. 

Alison Watson from Dunfermline was one of the participants on the 200th group.  She said: “I suffer from depression and I tend to hide away in the house, avoiding social contact and activities.  Branching Out gives me a reason to get up in the morning because I have made the commitment to get out and be there at the same time each week.  I am doing something with a purpose and being part of a group project, with different tasks and activities each week, is really motivating.  There’s a nice atmosphere in the group and I’ve gradually been able to talk to the leaders and to other participants, who are experiencing a variety of mental health issues.

“We’ve been really lucky with the weather so far and Silverburn Park in Leven is a beautiful setting, with a beach nearby where we also do some activities.  It has really helped me to gain some routine, more confidence and overall it is very therapeutic.”

branching out

Branching Out was initially run and funded directly by Forestry Commission Scotland.  However, its success has enabled us to pass the structured model onto partner organisations, such as local authority ranger services and environmental charities, and provide an outdoor training and accreditation programme for leaders, which has been approved by NHS Health Scotland and the Institute for Outdoor Learning. We are now working with 17 partners in nine NHS board areas to deliver up to 39 projects per year.