Somerset Nature Connections is a partnership project between Somerset Wildlife Trust and the three Somerset Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The project aims to help individuals and groups to connect with nature to benefit their physical and mental health, to reduce some of the barriers which prevent people from accessing natural spaces, and develop a network of skilled volunteers who can support communities for the longer term.

Start Date: 01/01/2020 End Date: 01/01/2023

Somerset Nature Connections is a three-year partnership project between Somerset Wildlife Trust and the three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset – Mendip Hills AONB, Quantock Hills AONB and Blackdown Hills AONB.

Somerset Nature Connections aims to:

  • Support individuals and groups to understand and enjoy the benefits nature connection can have for their physical and mental health.
  • Increase people’s confidence to engage and enjoy natural spaces.
  • Reduce some of the barriers which prevent people from accessing natural spaces.
  • Develop a network of skilled volunteers who can support communities for the longer term and help connect people to services and support in their local areas.

Nature and wellbeing courses

The project team is running nature and wellbeing self-care courses in each of the three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The sessions are be based around the ‘five pathways to nature connectedness’ developed by the University of Derby. These are: contact (senses), beauty, emotion, compassion and meaning. Sessions include wellbeing interventions such as nature-based mindfulness, as well as practical conservation, nature exploration, wildlife ID, outdoor art and bushcraft.

The courses run for 18 weeks and are split into six-week blocks. Participants can attend for one, two or three blocks depending on what they feel is appropriate for them. Sessions generally run from 10am – 2.30pm once a week and will be based primarily at one site, with opportunities to explore the local landscape. The courses are aimed at those experiencing mild to moderate anxiety, stress or depression. People can either self-refer onto the course or be referred by a health professional. The course on the Blackdown Hills is being held at Park Farm near to Wellington and takes place on Thursdays.

Upskilling and improving the confidence of community groups

Alongside the 18-week nature and wellbeing courses the project is working with local community groups, supporting people with, or at higher risk of developing mental health problems. This may include working with groups who support adults with learning disabilities, those with long term health conditions, carers, and isolated older people. Somerset Nature Connection’s project officers work alongside group leaders to provide a structured, purposeful outdoor programme of sessions. These sessions are adapted to participants needs to improve people’s ability to self-manage their mental health. Sessions cover the health and wellbeing benefits of local natural environments, health and safety practicalities, and outdoor activities. In addition, this work aims to increase group leaders’ knowledge and their skills in delivering outdoor nature-based wellbeing activities for their groups on an ongoing basis.

Recruiting and training volunteers

To maximise the reach and longevity of the project the project aims to recruit and train 30 volunteers over the course of the three years. Some of these volunteers will be beneficiaries of our nature and wellbeing course, offering peer support to new participants; some will support the project officers to deliver courses and community groups; other volunteers will come to share a specific skill. Peer support training will be provided by Chard Watch, and mental health first aid training by Somerset Mind. The project aims to support volunteers to gain the skills and experience to continue to support others after the project has ended.

Project funding

The project is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, Hinkley Point C Community Impact Mitigation Fund, Somerset County Council Public Health and Improving Lives to Prevent Demand Fund, Discovery Community Fund, South Somerset District Council and St James Foundation.

More information

For more information about the Somerset Nature Connections project contact the team at snc@somersetwildlife.org

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