David Hopkins: No denying benefits of outdoors

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There is a growing body of research showing that time spent in green areas and woodlands reduces stress and blood pressure, and improves mental and physical health.

The pace of life Edinburgh can get on top of all of us, and can be a risk factor for social isolation and mental ill-health. With one in four British adults experiencing mental ill-health each year and a growing awareness of the impact of climate change, there is a real need to promote the benefits reconnecting with nature. It has become normal for people to seek joy in buying new things and focusing on the self in search of happiness. Just look at how busy Princes Street and the St James Centre are on a Saturday afternoon. But we aim to show that spending time in the outdoors offers an alternative, plus an opportunity to escape the pressures of life.

Edinburgh has many green spaces to explore, from the Braid Hills to Bruntsfield Links, from Carintows Park to Calton Hill.

We help socially isolated people to learn new skills, meet new people, help conserve the environment and improve their mental wellbeing. And the more people that get involved with our projects and benefit from working outdoors, the more we will be able to achieve.

We run a range of projects for organisations, whether it’s planting new woodlands or managing old ones, making furniture from trees felled by hand, pressing hand-picked apples for juice or learning more about our environmental impact and how to reduce it, New Caledonian Woodlands is busy in the woods most days, delivering eight distinct projects and working with over 1000 people per year. With our new “green hub” site now located in North Edinburgh we have a base from which to deliver our workshops, projects and volunteering days.

“Re-skilling” workshops are delivered throughout the year and celebrate the experiences and skills people have to share. Our “Planet Projects” invite people to join us in promoting Scotland’s historic woodland culture and ensuring it can be enjoyed for years to come.

By using sustainable materials, managing woodlands appropriately and learning from one another we are strengthening the community and learning to protect our environment.

The People Projects focus on the therapeutic benefits of the outdoors, aimed at adults experiencing a period of mental ill health and social isolation. As project participants progress on their journey, they have the opportunity to make and sell produce at local markets under the Fruitful Woods brand. They also contribute to improving the environment and accomplish a huge amount in terms of growing their confidence and self-esteem.

David Hopkins is a spokesman for the New Caledonian Woodlands, a charity based in Inverleith Park