Start Date: 01/02/2016 End Date: 30/08/2020
The aim of this project was to support mental wellbeing and physical activity, working with specific groups and individuals who may benefit from such engagement, and to tackle some of the barriers that prevent people from experiencing the health and wellbeing benefits that the countryside can offer.
To build on the work of this project we worked with Somerset Wildlife Trust to secure National Lottery Funding for the Somerset Nature Connections project commencing in September 2020.
Nature and Wellbeing project activities
Here are just a few of the activities and initiatives that have been set up the Blackdown Hills AONB thanks to our Nature and Wellbeing project. These demonstrate the varied ways in which we have been working with partners to assist people to access our wonderfully restorative natural environments.
Wild Days for families
Blackdown Hills AONB has been working with Forestry England and Zing Somerset, to support a family group from Halcon and Priorswood Estate by providing them with opportunities to be active, get outside and to explore places they may not have the chance to explore otherwise.
As part of the Nature and Wellbeing initiative, the families have been enjoying ‘Wild Days’ visiting Forestry England sites. The sessions so far have gone very well. More sessions are planned in the coming year to make the most of the changing seasons .
Getting involved with farming and wildlife
Chard WATCH is a voluntary organisation that supports vulnerable and socially-isolated people in and around Chard.
As a result of the Nature and Wellbeing project, a group of people from WATCH, with various health and wellbeing needs, now makes regular visits to Folly Farm in the Blackdown Hills AONB – a farm which is managed primarily for nature conservation.
Led by farmer Jonathan Farey, the group has been:
- Learning about work on the farm and about its plants, trees and wildlife
- Helping with tasks including scrub clearance, burning, and ditch clearance
- Getting involved in various art projects, for example working with clay and cameras
- Helping to spot and record wildlife
Staff and volunteers have noted how relaxed and happy people have been on their visits.
Art and nature bringing back memories
Chard Memory Café, run by the Alzheimer’s Society, is a meeting place for people living with dementia and their carers.
As part of the Nature and Wellbeing project, members of Chard Memory Café have been paying regular visits to Ferne Animal Sanctuary where they have been taking part seasonal art sessions led by a local volunteer. The idea is to inspire conversations and memories – many of the members grew up in Blackdown Hills AONB and enjoy sharing stories as they create their artwork. Each season a new display of their artwork will be exhibited at Ferne Animal Sanctuary.
Ferne Animal Sanctuary also plans to provide opportunities for the group to volunteer in the garden next summer.
Connecting with nature through school
With the help of Blackdown Hills Natural Futures project, Manor Court Primary School has been involving children and their families in wildlife-based activities, including:
- A trip to Ferne Animal Sanctuary involving a trail which took families around the site looking for and identifying birds.
- A volunteer day to improve the school’s nature area and pond
- Staff training on how best to use the school’s wildlife space
We are now in the process of working with Forestry England to organise more targeted sessions for a small group of pupils who, for various reasons, find class-time tricky. These will be termly sessions that the teaching staff will lead, supported by Forestry England
Improving access to outdoor environments
Blackdown Hills AONB has set up regular conservation volunteering sessions at Otterhead Lakes with a view to involving people normally less able to access physical outdoor tasks. The volunteers come from various services in Chard and Taunton Deane, including Green Days Day Care that supports adults with learning disabilities. This group is in turn supported by volunteers, drawn from the local community and led by Blackdown Hills AONB’s volunteer coordinator.
The sessions at Otterhead Lakes are giving those involved an opportunity to get involved in conservation tasks, learn different skills and identify nature and wildlife, in a friendly and supportive environment.
Green Days accessibility walks
A group from Green Days Day Care has started to explore the Blackdown Hills with a view to helping the AONB learn more about how support people who experience barriers to accessing the countryside.
Every other month, the group from Green Days will be visiting locations around the Blackdown Hills AONB, completing questionnaires about accessibility and taking photographs. The aim is to help more people get out and enjoy the area, by sharing the group’s findings on the Blackdown Hills AONB website.
Walks improving social connections
The Foot of the Blackdown Hills Walking Group was set up with the help of Alzheimer’s Society and Better in Taunton. While walking in Blackdown Hills AONB, group members enjoy conversations about their childhood memories of nature and spend lots of time sharing stories and experiences. Consequently, members of the group have spent more time socialising than they normally would, with their love of nature and wildlife something that they all have in common.
Developing partnerships between local nature and health professionals
It was important to us that the benefits the Nature and Wellbeing project has brought to the residents of Somerset extended long beyond the end of the project. So, our Nature and Wellbeing project coordinator worked hard to cultivate lasting connections. She brought together people and groups who can sustain the aims of the project long into the future – from professionals working in health and nature through to volunteers and community groups.
Here are some of the organisations we have been working with:
Health and community partners
Nature and delivery partners:
Facts and figures
Across the three Somerset Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) – Blackdown Hills, Quantock Hills and Mendip Hills:
- 2345 people engaged in the project
- 216 people took part in formal training
- 515 sessions have taken place
- 10 volunteers have been regularly supporting the project
For more information about the project read the Nature and Wellbeing project evaluation – full report
A new project Somerset Nature Connections has now launched which builds on the great work of the Nature and Wellbeing project.