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Volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts: A natural health service

Tuesday 3rd October 2017

Happy and muddy volunteers with BBOWT. Pic Jess Gallagher

A new report, The Health and Wellbeing Impacts of Volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts, reveals that volunteering in wild places while being supported by Wildlife Trust staff has a clear impact on people’s health: it makes people feel better, happier and more connected to other people.

The results indicate that volunteering work delivered by The Wildlife Trusts offers an important non-medical service that can and does reduce the current burden on the NHS.

volunteering with BBOWT nourishes the soul and helps maintain a balance in my life

The study, which was carried out by the Green Exercise Team at the University of Essex, used recognised methodology for assessing mental wellbeing, nature relatedness, social engagement and physical activity, and key findings were statistically significant:

  • 95% of participants who were identified as having poor levels of mental health at the start, reported an improvement in six weeks, which increased further over 12 weeks.
  • The mental wellbeing of more than two-thirds (69%) of all participants had improved after just six weeks.
  • Improvements were greatest for people who had poor levels of mental health at the start, and had no experience of volunteering for the Wildlife Trusts.
  • Participants also reported significantly enhanced feelings of positivity, increased general health and pro-environmental behaviour, higher levels of physical activity and more contact with greenspace.

Dominic Higgins, Nature and Wellbeing Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, says: “The results of this structured research project make a powerful case for nature having a larger role in people’s every-day lives.

“The evidence is loud and clear – volunteering in wild places while being supported by Wildlife Trust staff has a clear impact on people’s health; it makes people feel better, happier and more connected to other people. Participants also reported increases in their sense of connection to nature.

“Everyone should be able to access wildlife-rich green places – achieving this requires a joined-up approach across government. Those responsible for public health, planning, transport, parks and leisure need to work together to make nature more accessible to people in their everyday lives."

Dr Mike Rogerson PhD, AFHEA, University of Essex, says: “At a time when we are losing count of local and national-level health, wellbeing, loneliness, community, and NHS burden crises, engagement with the Wildlife Trusts’ volunteering activities can provide a much-needed antidote for individuals, local areas and the UK as a whole.”

  • Read the four-page summary pdf of all three phases of the University of Essex’s research for The Wildlife Trusts.
  • Download The Health and Wellbeing Impacts of Volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts. The appendix on page 31 describes the projects involved in the research.

Nature’s a healer with the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT)

1,400 people volunteer with BBOWT, and many of them say that they feel healthier and happier as a consequence of their experiences. A volunteer in Bucks said: “I have had mental health problems in the past, and the volunteering with BBOWT nourishes the soul and helps maintain a balance in my life.”

In West Berkshire BBOWT has structured and informal projects involving people with mental health issues, and also with people living with dementia, and their carers.

Earlier in 2017 the Wildlife Trust ran a nature therapy group for members of Eight Bells for Mental Health, a charity in Newbury supporting adults affected by mental health issues. Over 12 weekly sessions 14 people enjoyed an immersive experience in nature which included outdoor walks, campfire cooking, spotting wildlife and taking part in practical conservation work.

The mental wellbeing of participants and their connection with nature was measured at the start and end of the project. Everyone involved experienced a significant increase in their mental wellbeing, while two-thirds of participants reported an increased affinity with nature.

Watch the Nature Therapy video.

Nature Memories Café, a weekly drop-in session at the Nature Discovery Centre for people living with dementia and their loved ones, has proved a great success, with increased independence and self-esteem through recovery of memory and attention.

Contact the Nature Discovery Centre to find out how you can get involved with nature therapy groups and volunteering in West Berkshire.

Visit our Volunteering pages to find out where you can volunteer with BBOWT.