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

Dementia pilot project success

Forests and woodlands have a positive effect on anxiety and depression, reducing stress and mental fatigue.

Over the past few years our Branching Out and cardiac programmes have been helping people with mental health and heart problems to access our woodlands and gain health benefits from activities and gentle exercise in the outdoors.

Due to the success of these projects, we ran a Dementia Pilot project in 2014 which was part of a research study for people with early-stage dementia.

Tree art

Participants took part in an innovative, exciting and fun programme of woodland activities, including woodland walking, tree planting, fire lighting and woodland cooking, nature photography, willow sculpting and tree and bird identification, led by Community Ranger, Gordon Harper.


Participant with Gordon Harper

Throughout the 10 week programme, each participant created a photographic memory book, which recorded the activities they were involved in. This created something to look back on and jog memories and also to add to in the future. The participants' spouses can also use this to stimulate conversations at home.

The project was designed by Mandy Cook, a PhD student from Dundee University, to investigate how Greenspace therapy could improve the health and wellbeing of people with early stage dementia.

She said: "The woodland environment offers a complete sensory experience, which stimulates reminiscence, creates conversation and promotes engagement and interaction. The pilot woodland activity programme can be seen to contribute to the care and support of people with early-stage dementia by enhancing positive mental well-being and broadening social networks."

Mandy took notes and photographs throughout the project on what was going well and how the participants interacted with staff and peers. Each session covered a different topic, such as tree identification, photography and the uses of natural materials.

Initial results from the study suggests that woodland activity programmes enhance and complement traditional treatments for those patients with early stage dementia. The programme provided participants with an overwhelmingly positive experience, contributing to well-being and feelings of self-worth.

As a result of the findings, we now plan to roll out the woodland activity programme to new locations in the future.


fire starting

Kevin Lafferty, Access, Health and Recreation Advisor, said: "It is clear that the woodland activity programme has demonstrated huge benefits for those taking part, not only for people with dementia, but also their carers.

"We know that dementia is likely to become an ever increasing condition in years to come and therefore see the programme as being a complimentary intervention, supporting the services already in place."