Social Forestry for Woodland Owners and Managers

As an owner or manager of a woodland, we know the benefits to our mental and physical health working in the woods can bring. Social forestry projects aim to bring these benefits to those that need it most.

 This page aims to answer:

What is Social Forestry?

Social Forestry comprises of health and well-being programmes run in a woodland setting, often involving woodland management tasks or woodland craft activities. Programmes are designed to build self-confidence, self-esteem, and social interaction. In some senses it is a Forest School for grown-ups!

Social Forestry is an activity that can be prescribed to an individual by their GP, in lieu or in addition to drugs – this is referred to as Social Prescribing. Social Prescribing recognises that some physical and mental health problems cannot be cured by prescribed drugs, or prescribed drugs alone. A GP, Nurse or other primary care professional may refer people to services in their local area that promote well-being, encourage social inclusion, endorse self-care and often, connect to nature. At Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales), we work alongside GP surgeries in Wales and GPs refer patients to our programmes via Social Prescribing.

Social Forestry programmes are run in England (by Small Woods) and Wales (by Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales)). We work with all sorts of referral organisations. This includes mental health charities such as MIND, family focused charities that work in areas of deprivation such as Flying Start, residential care organisations such as HAFOD and many more.

The Benefits of Social Forestry

Many people across the UK are taking a new look at what their local woods can offer, and are showing interest in getting involved to benefit themselves and their communities.

Engaging communities with a local woodland gives them a stake in its future, and means that it is more likely to be shown care and respect by visitors. Having a community which knows and loves a woodland may also be important when it comes to decisions on development.

There is a robust and extensive body of research that suggests spending time in nature improves physical and mental wellbeing and decreases mortality. Research regarding Social Forestry projects run by Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) have shown two predominant benefits. Firstly, an improvement in positive relationships via social contact, thus decreasing isolation. Secondly, an improvement in perceived physical and mental wellbeing from time spent in nature doing physical activities (check out our Case Studies!). 

Feedback from Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) Social Forestry session participants includes:

“My mental health is a lot better. Less stressed and more patient. If I am feeling stressed, I just go for a walk in the woods!”

(Actif Woods Wales Gwynedd participant)

 “Being in the woods really made changes in my children. My son is now so much more confident and happier around people. My daughter loves to play with mud and water, she is only 1 year old”

 (Neath Port Talbot Family Group participant)

“I cannot thank Actif Woods enough for helping to make my world a little larger. I already spent a fair bit of time walking in the woods but was feeling a bit lost and directionless, the Actif Woods sessions helped me to feel connected again. I am making more effort to use my walks to improve my fitness and the new skills I have, have made me feel more engaged with the outdoors."

(Actif Woods Wales, Rhondda Cynon Taff participant)

For more information on the connection of humans and nature, have a look at our Social Forestry for Participants page.

How can I start a Social Forestry Project in my woodland?

If you are interested in hosting a Social Forestry session in your group, please contact Amie Andrews [[email protected]]. We are happy to provide you with tailored information to your local area.

If you are a Small Woods Member, we are developing a guidance pack to help you plan for having groups in your woodland. It will include information on safety measures, insurance, your rights etc. Please email Amie Andrews [[email protected]] to register your interest.