Woodlands improving mental health

Participants of Forestry Commission Scotland’s (FCS) Branching Out programme are celebrating after successfully completing the 12-week mental health and wellbeing programme at Tyrebagger Woods.

The group of 12 attended an award ceremony on Friday [11th May] in the woodlands with Minister for Mental Health, Maureen Watt, where they received certificates acknowledging their achievements. Some members also received the John Muir Discovery award and recognition for their work as peer mentors.

Delivered by social enterprise, Earth for Life, in partnership with NHS Grampian and Penumbra, Branching Out is an FCS award-winning adult mental health project which is designed to improve people’s confidence, mental wellbeing, and communication skills through a range of outdoor activities. 

The programme reaches its 10-year anniversary this month [May] and is estimated to have helped over 2,000 people across Scotland.

Maureen Watt, Minister for Mental Health, said: “With an increased focus on mental health across all aspects of our lives, programmes such as Branching Out become more relevant to our continued health and wellbeing. It’s important that people become more aware of their mental wellbeing and comfortable talking about it and it’s been great to hear about all the outdoor activities that the participants have enjoyed during the project.

“Congratulations to everyone who received their awards at Tyrebagger Woods and to everyone who has completed Branching Out over the last 10 years.”

Nathalie Moriarty, Forestry Commission Scotland’s Branching Out programme manager, said: “Branching Out is a hugely successful programme and it’s amazing to see the results it has delivered over the last 10 years. It can be life changing for those who take part, they feel more confident and have developed better communication skills to go on and enjoy other local activities which help ensure they continue to move forward on the work they have already achieved.” 

Adopting a holistic, person-centred approach promoting ‘five ways to better mental health’, Branching Out takes place in forests, woodlands and other green spaces. Participants take part in a range of activities covering key areas such as bushcraft skills, practical conservation, physical activity, creativity and environmental art, and personal development or learning. Led by qualified Branching Out leaders, participants benefit from the project’s clear routine, structure and non-clinical setting and enjoy three hours of woodland activities a week with each session adapted to meet the needs of each individual group. 

Originally developed and funded by FCS, the success of the programme has enabled FCS to pass the structured model onto partner organisations and provide an outdoor training and accreditation programme for leaders, which has been endorsed by the Institute for Outdoor Learning and NHS Health Scotland.

Alasdair Taylor, Executive Director, Earth for Life, said: “We are incredibly proud of all our participants who have completed the Branching Out programme. It’s amazing to see the difference in people when they first begin the course and how they feel at the end. Our hope is that people who complete the Branching Out programme continue to use the outdoors and benefit from all it has to offer.

“One participant from last year’s programme received her peer mentor award and will be employed later this year with Earth for Life as a Branching Out Assistant Leader. This shows how the programme not only promotes recovery, but also offers pathways to further training and employment.”

Forestry Commission Scotland is now working with 22 partners in 10 NHS board areas delivering up to 50 projects a year.

Notes to editors

  1. Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Scottish Government's Environment and Forestry Directorate.
  2. Tha Coimisean na Coilltearachd Alba na phàirt de Bhuidheann-Stiùiridh na h-Àrainneachd is Coilltearachd aig Riaghaltas na h-Alba agus bidh e a’ toirt seachad comhairle air poileasaidhean coilltearachd agus air riaghladh. Tha Iomairt Choilltean na h-Alba na fo-bhuidheann aig Coimisean na Coilltearachd a tha a’ ruith Oighreachd na Coille Nàiseanta as leth Ministearan na h-Alba.
  3. Media enquiries to Steve Williams, Forestry Commission Scotland press office, 0300 067 6508 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.