Wellbeing in nature

The Discovery Community Fund has awarded £50,000 to Somerset Nature Connections to enable people with learning disabilities and/or autism to have better access to the natural environment to improve their health and wellbeing.

In the three-year partnership between Somerset Wildlife Trust, Quantock Hills, Blackdown Hills and Mendip Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, project officers will work alongside group leaders to provide an outdoor programme of activities for eighty people. These will include: practical conservation, carpentry, sensory walks, forest-bathing, bush-craft, and using nature and the landscape to create art, music and photography.

It aims to encourage independent adults with learning disabilities and/or autism to join a small group programme designed and proven to support individuals to boost their wellbeing.

For the last four years, as part of the Nature and Wellbeing Project – funded by Public Health in Somerset – the Mendip AONB team has worked with the Discovery team in Frome, to support a small group to visit the Mendip Hills each week and get involved in a variety of practical volunteering tasks. These have included dry stone walling, fixing benches and gates and clearing paths as well as making bird boxes. Philip has taken part in the project from the beginning. He said:

“I like being outside in all kinds of weather dry stone walling and clearing the paths.”

Discovery support worker Chris Parker said: “I’m proud of my group and after the first lockdown they spent two weeks cutting down nettles and brambles so they could use a path at Blackmoor reserve at Charterhouse. They worked very hard and pretty much turn their hand to anything.”

Those taking part will be given a stepped approach, with early activities taking place within communities at an allotment or parks and later sessions progressing to nature reserves. Sessions will cover the health and wellbeing benefits of natural environments, health and safety, and outdoor activities.

Research shows that people with learning disabilities are more at risk of developing poor physical and mental and there is strong evidence to show that spending time outdoors helps people better manage their physical and mental health. Despite being a rural county, people experiencing mental health problems across Somerset tell us they need more help accessing outdoor activities, with 53% surveyed stating they felt lonely; yet many groups supporting people at high risk do not have the knowledge or skills to take people into the countryside.

This project aims to address these issues, along with some of the disadvantages faced by adults with learning disabilities and/or autism, including social isolation and low confidence and skills. This will be achieved through a three-year project (part-funded for two years by the Discovery Fund) that engages groups at higher risk of developing poor mental health with Somerset’s natural environment – using green space in towns and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – enabling individuals to experience the health and wellbeing benefits of nature.

It’s part of a larger project with funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, Hinkley Point C, The Discovery Community Fund, Somerset County Council and South Somerset District Council.