Recent research proves that being in National Parks improves mental and physical wellbeing. Evidence has been published in light of action research carried out in two linked three-year-long projects by Exmoor and Dartmoor National Park Authorities.
Partners from Public Health England, Devon and Somerset County Council Public Health Teams and other guests gathered last month to hear about the results of the ‘Moor Health and Wellbeing’ report. The evaluation, carried out by Plymouth University, weighs up the challenges and successes faced by Exmoor’s Moor to Enjoy Project and Dartmoor’s Naturally Healthy Project. Some of the reported positive changes identified from participants’ experiences within the National Parks included a sense of belonging, feeling physically or mentally energised, enjoyment, a sense of achievement and increased opportunities for creativity and learning.
Exmoor’s Moor to Enjoy Project focused on supporting groups and group leaders in communities within striking distance of the National Park developing and delivering exciting activities and ‘taster’ days out on Exmoor. “The Project aims to bring together public health and social care professionals and groups and group leaders with the amazing opportunities to get out on Exmoor and enjoy the stunning landscape and wildlife. It is hoped that through these taster days, groups and individuals will be given the confidence and skills to discover more of Exmoor independently in the future,” said Lucy McQuillan from Exmoor National Park. “Getting active outdoors doesn’t have to be a full on hike with all the kit. We are trying to encourage people to take that first step to explore the National Park in a way that suits them. This might be as simple as sitting by a river or having a picnic at a favourite view point,” she continued.
Moor to Enjoy took as its starting point the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and the Government’s Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations for physical activity and actively promotes Public Health England’s and local public health teams’ OneYou and Active 10 initiatives addressing inactivity, encouraging people to undertake more than 30 minutes of exercise a week. “If you want to be active, what better place than your local National Park with all the associated mental health benefits that brings too,” said Lucy.
Dartmoor’s Naturally Healthy project increased understanding of demographics and health risks in a local community by bringing people together with lower than average physical and/or mental health. This established a local ‘naturally healthy group’ that meets every week to either undertake a ‘Walking for Health’ walk or a nature based activity for wellbeing, examples include Tai Chi, cycling, creative crafts. This process enabled the group to develop a succession strategy to secure longer term benefit.
The evaluation report will contribute to the growing body of research evidence that exposure to natural environments has demonstrable physical and mental health benefits, particularly with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In addition to the Report, a practitioner Toolkit produced by Plymouth University provides a ten-step guide for stakeholders on how to support provision of wellbeing in nature programmes.
Find the full ‘Moor Health and Wellbeing’ final report and practitioner toolkit online at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/living-and-working/moor-to-enjoy-project
PHOTO: Partners from Exmoor and Dartmoor National Park Authorities, Devon and Somerset County Council, Public Health England and Plymouth University.