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How Norfolk’s woodlands can improve mental health

PUBLISHED: 14:35 16 October 2017 | UPDATED: 14:35 16 October 2017

Thetford Forest (photo: Sonya Duncan)

Thetford Forest (photo: Sonya Duncan)

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015

As the days shorten and hours of sunlight diminish, fresh air is essential to your sense of wellbeing, so why not get out in the forest this autumn and embrace the benefits of the great outdoors?

Thetford Forest's High Lodge (photo: Sonya Duncan)Thetford Forest's High Lodge (photo: Sonya Duncan)

Anyone who has ever taken a walk through a light-dappled forest on a bright chilly autumnal day can appreciate that the benefits are far reaching for mind, body and soul.

Whether you are standing silent in the peaceful stillness of the woods or are surrounded by the noise of birds and the sound of the wind whipping through the trees, immersing yourself in the wonders of the natural world can be immeasurably profound.

This month, Forestry Commission England launches a new initiative in partnership with mental health charity Mind to promote wellbeing in the great outdoors and to encourage more of us down to the woods.

Feel Good Autumn brings together a host of activities, events, tips and ideas to help people practice mindfulness in the forest and to make the most of the environment.

Thetford Forest (photo: Sonya Duncan)Thetford Forest (photo: Sonya Duncan)

“The forest is a fantastic place to be and being among the trees just make you feel good; it gives you time to think, some breathing space. You really get a sense of being out there in the world away from all the stresses of life,” says Tim Frost, manager of High Lodge at Thetford Forest.

“You can hear the different sounds and enjoy the different qualities of light coming through the canopy. There are also some magical experiences to be discovered, connecting with nature – here at Thetford Forest for example we have many different species of deer and of woodland birds which you can spot as you explore the woods.”

From rainbow walks, woodwork and forest sketching to Nordic walking, yoga and guided bike rides, there will be plenty of ideas to encourage people to let nature boost their mood. At High Lodge there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy from the miles of pathways to nature trails and even orienteering courses.

“People find simply walking among the trees can be fantastic for wellbeing. We want people to enjoy their surroundings when they are here and also to discover new things.”

Lynford Arboretum (photo: Sonya Duncan)Lynford Arboretum (photo: Sonya Duncan)

However, he says that boosting your state of mind in the great outdoors doesn’t always mean peace and tranquillity.

“For some people, they love the quiet of the woods, the sense of being alone. But for others, it can be vigorous exercise and adventure which gets the endorphins going and gives them the real feel-good factor.

“We have lots of bike trails here, from flat easy routes to the challenging red graded mountain bike trails which will get the adrenaline pumping. There are also table tennis tables which are free to use set among the trees which are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and try a new activity. And if you want to give your whole family a well being boost this autumn, we have a fantastic interactive Gruffalo trail for little ones to enjoy – if you download the app, it will bring the creatures to life.”

As part of Feel Good Autumn, Thetford Forest also has a selection of electric bikes which can be hired from BikeArt on site.

“Come and have a look and give it a try. There are also specialist bikes to hire for those with disabilities, so hopefully everyone can get out in the forest in some way,” said Tim.

Visitors to the Forestry Commission are also being encouraged to track the colour of their forest as the season changes by voting on line and, Tim says, although Thetford Forest is largely conifers there are beautiful, richly coloured trees to inspire you and stimulate the senses at the nearby Lynford Arboretum, which is also run by the Forestry Commission and the Friends of Thetford Forest.

“If you want to immerse yourself in these incredible autumnal colours, do not miss the Lynford Arboretum. It is a magical place this time of year and there are some wonderful species of trees to discover.”

Hayley Jarvis, community programmes manager for Mind, says: “Doing physical activity in the fresh air, be it walking or conservation work, is natural, free and accessible and it has been proven to boost mental wellbeing as well as improving physical health.

“Mind research found that after a single walk in the countryside, 90% of participants had increased levels of self-esteem, with nearly three quarters reporting decreased levels of depression. We hope that Feel Good Autumn will encourage more people to take up green exercise as a way of improving and maintaining mental wellbeing.”

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