Branching Out is an innovative programme of woodland activities which was set up in 2007 by Forestry Commission Scotland.
Throughout the course, 11 participants from the Community Mental Health Teams in Angus have enjoyed themed walks, woodland management, habitat creation, nest box building, fire lighting, photography, woodland art, watercolour painting, fly fishing, tree identification, bird identification and butterfly and bee surveys.
They also completed The John Muir Award, which encourages awareness and responsibility for the natural environment in a spirit of fun, adventure and exploration, and participants were presented with their awards at a ceremony on Tuesday, July 7. The programme was run by staff from Angus Council Ranger Service, trained and accredited by Forestry Commission Scotland, with support from NHS Tayside occupational therapy staff. Feedback from the participants has been extremely positive.
Almost all of the participants noted improvements in their self-confidence and their ability to socialise more easily. Many also felt that the programme gave them a new-found interest in wildlife and conservation, and the rangers came in for a lot of praise for their sensitivity and enthusiasm.
The Forestry Commission has worked with environmental organisations in seven NHS board areas to train staff to deliver the course, offering people with mental health issues the opportunity to engage in a programme which provides mental, physical and social benefits, by helping with confidence building, increasing physical activity and greater independence.
Lisa King, from Angus Council Ranger Service at Crombie Country Park, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be running Branching Out and making it available to people living in Angus. Branching Out is an innovative programme that helps people who, for one reason or another, have experienced changes in their mental wellbeing and it can be an extremely valuable part of their support network.
“Engagement with the activities has created opportunities for enjoyment, relaxation and social interaction as well as new experiences. Participants also have the opportunity to progress onto voluntary work with the Ranger Service at Crombie as part of our regular volunteer group.”