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Nature 4 Health's Branching Out scheme uses the great outdoors to help people improve mental health

By Garry McCartney

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Spending time in the great outdoors is scientifically proven to be good for health.
Spending time in the great outdoors is scientifically proven to be good for health.

A NAIRN-based charity is offering free “back to nature” mental health programmes in local woodlands.

Nature 4 Health’s (N4H) 12-week Branching Out scheme is running weekly from 10am-1pm at Sanquhar from Monday, February 22, featuring a range of bushcraft activities designed to support folk struggling with their wellbeing.

N4H project officer Ruaraidh Milne confirmed participants must be referred by a mental health service provider such as social worker, GP, Moray Wellbeing Hub, nurse, occupational therapist or a DWP work coach.

He said: “We will be doing a range of activities such as primitive fire lighting, foraging, green wood carving and campfire cookery. Every session will include tea/coffee made with the kelly kettle, time for sharing, and space for recording activities. The participants will be put

forward for a John Muir Award and potentially other qualifications, including first aid.”

There will be a minimum of two fully qualified leaders at each session.

“We ran the programme at Sanquhar last year,” said Ruaraidh.

“There was hugely positive feedback – participants were grateful, enthusiastic, and keen to come back, especially as the last programmes were cut short by the first covid lockdown.

“This year we are cleared under Scottish Government guidelines to continue up to and including in tier four.

“We have all appropriate covid-safe practices, protocols and risk assessments. It helps that the whole programme is delivered outdoors.”

One in four people will experience mental health problems. In Scotland, one in seven people are prescribed anti-depressants, and the number being treated has risen by five per cent in the past year.

Branching Out offers a holistic, person-centred approach promoting five ways to better mental

health. Participants are invited to increase self-confidence, explore new places and activities, and feel engaged with the local community.

The programme is designed by the NHS and Scottish Forestry for people who use mental health services.

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