Woodland project ensures Fifers no longer out on a limb

Alison Watson, left, a member of the 200th Branching Out group from FEAT, and programme manager Natalie Moriart at Silverburn Park in Leven. (Pic by Jane Barlow.)

Alison Watson, left, a member of the 200th Branching Out group from FEAT, and programme manager Natalie Moriart at Silverburn Park in Leven. (Pic by Jane Barlow.)

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A Fife project has become the 200th initiative to be part of a innovative national outdoor activity programme which supports people with long-term mental health problems.

Branching Out has been pioneered by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) since 2007 and uses forests, woodlands and other green spaces to provide a range of activities to improve the confidence, self-esteem and communication skills of participants.

So far nearly 1500 people across Scotland have benefited and FCS was delighted its 200th 12-week programme was taking place at Silverburn Park by Leven, with adults referred by the Fife Employment Access Trust (FEAT), a charity helping people with mental health issues secure employment.

Nathalie Moriarty, Branching Out programme manager, said: “This is a fantastic achievement – we’re very proud to have reached such a significant milestone. Branching Out is a hugely successful programme that helps people onto a new path, where they start participating and integrating with society again.

“Everybody who takes part is encouraged to get involved in other local activities to ensure they continue moving forward with their progress. It can be life changing.”

Alison Watson, who suffers from depression, is part of the Silverburn group and said: “I tend to hide away in the house, avoiding social contact. Branching Out gives me a reason to get up in the morning because I have made the commitment to get out and be there at the same time each week.

“I am doing something with a purpose and being part of a group project, with different tasks and activities each week, is really motivating. It has really helped me to gain some routine, more confidence and overall it is very therapeutic.”

The programme, which is approved by NHS Health Scotland and the Institute for Outdoor Learning, provides three hours of woodland-based activities once a week, including physical exercise, conservation activities, such as habitat creation and nest box building, bushcraft, environmental art and outdoor learning, such as tree and bird identification.