The Nature and Wellbeing project has been helping members of the local community make the most of Somerset’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) by participating in activities that improve their physical and mental wellbeing.  

The project is being managed by our nature and wellbeing project officer, Kristen Lambert. Her focus is on supporting mental wellbeing and physical activity, working with specific groups and individuals who may benefit from such engagement.

The aim is to tackle some of the barriers that prevent people from experiencing the health and wellbeing benefits that the countryside can offer.

 

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 the Forestry Commission 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 Commission 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 the Forestry Commission 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 the Forestry Commission.

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 is important to us that the benefits the Nature and Wellbeing project brings to the residents of Somerset extends long beyond the end of the project. So, our Nature and Wellbeing project coordinator has been working hard to cultivate lasting connections. She has been bringing 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

Alzheimer’s Society

Chard WATCH

Clinical Commissioning Groups

Get Set

In Charley’s Memory

Mind

Walking for Health

Zing Somerset

Knightstone Housing Association

Somerset Partnership

Cheddar Patients Group

Wellington Patient Group

Discovery

Green Days Day Care

Better

Nature and delivery partners:

Huntstile Organic Farm

National Trust

Natural England

Forestry Commission

West Country Man

The Hive Café

Yeo Valley

Somerset Wildlife Trust

Watchet Visitor Centre

Young Wood

Folly Farm

Ferne Animal Sanctuary

Would you like get involved with the Nature and Wellbeing project?

We’d love to hear from you whether you’re a health professional, you work within members of the community, or if you yourself would like to get out and connect more with the natural environments of Somerset’s AONBs.

Please contact the team on 01823 451 884 or 07976 691 772 or email Danielle Wrench: DWrench@somerset.gov.uk

Find out more about our Nature and Wellbeing project

Nature and Wellbeing project – Year 1 report 2016-17 (download pdf)

 

Project details

This two-and-a-half year project, which began in 2016, is funded Public Health at Somerset County Council, and run jointly by Blackdown Hills AONB, Quantock Hills AONB and Mendip Hills AONB.

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