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Two children sit together, facing away in a lush forest. 5 to 11 February marks Children's Mental Health Week, an opportunity to start conversations and raise awareness. To mark this important week, we're taking a look at some of the work being done by our community rangers to support young people's mental health.

Spending time outdoors can boost your mood, lower stress levels and improve overall mental (and physical) health. That’s why our community rangers work hard to provide opportunities for children and young people to connect with the natural world. It might surprise you, but this is actually a large part of what they do, as Community Ranger Amanda describes:

It’s probably not something you’d usually associate with forestry, but supporting young people with their mental health is a big part of my role. As community rangers, we work closely with NHS teams to support young people and show them the value of greenspaces for their mental health and wellbeing. I absolutely love the work and knowing the direct impact we’re having is really rewarding.

At the end of last year, Amanda and the wider community ranger team hosted the NHS Regional South Glasgow CAMHS Team Day at Cuningar Loop. Together, they demonstrated and shared a selection of activities designed to help young people facing mental health challenges to get outside and connect with nature.

Activities included creating pressed flower jars, fire lighting and a wildlife quiz. The aim was to illustrate the benefits of the joint Therapeutic Forest Group Programme which uses these activities, and raise awareness of the clinical reasoning behind them.A group of people stand in an urban park setting. Small fires sit on a concrete platform.

What is CAMHS?

The NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) provides community-based and inpatient support to children and young people around the UK. Specifically, it helps young people facing complex issues including low mood, anxiety, eating issues, self-harm, trauma, difficult thoughts and difficulties managing emotions and behaviour.

CAMHS teams are multidisciplinary. Nurses, therapists, psychologists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, support workers, social workers and others work in partnership with, and guided by, children, young people and their families. They help them to be safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included.

Therapeutic Forest Group Programme

In summer 2022, we were approached by the South Glasgow CAMHS team to work together as the lead delivery partner for the Therapeutic Forest Group Programme.

The programme seeks to engage young people and their carers in meaningful activities that allow them to feel recognised, supported and valued. It also acts as an introduction to local greenspaces, particularly in an urban setting, and how to make the most of them. 

The sessions are an opportunity to learn practical personal, social, emotional and technical skills through hands-on learning in a woodland environment. Activities include wildlife exploration, den building, loose parts play, foraging and wild crafts like tool skills and fire cooking.

The activities are deliberately simple, accessible and can be tailored for all ages and abilities. Sensory, motor, social and emotional skills all play an important part.

A close up view of glass jars with flowers pressed on as decoration.

For a wide range of reasons, participants in the group often face challenges that may make it difficult for them to complete everyday tasks. The Therapeutic Forest Group Programme uses a play-based approach to equip both the young person and their care givers with tools to help them face these challenges.

Structure is provided to teach the young people strategies for regulating themselves by, for example, practicing mindfulness techniques. But there are also opportunities for both them and their carers to begin to recognise triggers and coping strategies independently. A collage. On the left, a table with Forestry and Land Scotland branded sporks, notepads, leaflets and activity booklets. On the top right, a table where two people are hammering flowers onto canvas bags. On the bottom right, a wider shot of a table with Forestry and Land Scotland branded items and the canvas bags.

Because the activities in our sessions meet the criteria for the NHS Natural Health Award, each young person taking part works towards achieving this award.

In addition, each participant leaves with a certificate recognising their work and an individually tailored activity pack with maps of their local greenspaces and information on the woodland activities from the programme. This acts as a sort of toolkit, encouraging the young person to continue exploring outdoors after the programme has ended. 

Across the country, our community rangers are involved in a number of CAMHS programmes that make the most of Scotland's national forests and land. Wherever possible, we try to skill share to improve on and expand the benefits of this type of engagement work.

These are important and impactful projects, and they are one of the ways we work to improve Scotland’s physical and mental health by increasing access to its national forests and land.

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