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Man standing in gloomy forest looking up to daylight

Photo: Malte Schmidt / Unsplash

On one of last week’s episodes of BBC Winterwatch, the team spent some time discussing mental health issues, and how spending time in the outdoors, and re-engaging with the world of plants, animals and trees can help people restore a bit of balance to their inner lives.

The team spoke to author Joe Harkness about his book, Bird Therapy, and how he developed a passion for birdwatching as part of his recovery from a period of mental illness.

Our work on mental health

Person sitting high up on a tree branch in a gloomy forest, with lots of trees around

Photo: Teddy Kelley / Unsplash

Interacting with the natural world can benefit to anyone suffering from mental health problems. At times, we all experience low mood and feelings of stress, and re-connecting with nature can be of great benefit to everyone when life feels like an uphill struggle. In fact, sometimes climbing a hill is exactly what’s needed!

For the past ten years, our Branching Out programme has looked for ways to help people connect with nature to improve their health and wellbeing, with a specific focus on mental health. They have been involved in over 300 successful projects, helping hundreds of people throughout Scotland.

Helping people to speak out

Low sunlight shining into forest causing trees to become silhouettes, and a person walking away from the camera on green undergrowth

Photo: Kiwihug / Unsplash

We were excited to learn of Joe’s book, and were delighted to see the Winterwatch team’s Chris Packham talking so openly and frankly about his own struggles. Opening up, breaking the silence and sharing feelings and experiences is so important, and as the presenters said, doing this in a peaceful, beautiful, wild place can sometimes make it easier to talk about difficult experiences. Being at one with nature can have great healing properties, as the Japanese practitioners of ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ or ‘forest bathing’ have learned.

Learn more about Joe Harkness and Bird Therapy at