Meet our Researchers

Portrait of Natasha Simons

Natasha Simons

Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) Research & Evaluation Officer
[email protected]
01654 700061 ext.4

After completing her PhD, Natasha specialised in designing and delivering evaluation strategies for charities, educational outreach organisations and museums. She is also experienced in report writing and funding bids. She has worked as the Lead Evaluator on several larger scale projects run by the British Council, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Physics. 

Ed Lord

PhD Researcher, Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, Swansea University
PhD title: An ethnographic examination of the experience of ecotherapy as an intervention for mental health in South and West Wales
Funded by Research Capacity Building Collaboration Wales (RCBC PhD fellowship)
Contact: [email protected]

Ed is a lecturer on the Mental Health Nursing team at Swansea University. A graduate from the University of Nottingham, Ed has worked in acute inpatient mental health services in numerous NHS Trusts in England and Health Boards in Wales for over ten tears. His research interests cover the intersection of mental health, geography, environmentalism, and critical social theory. He achieved an MSc in 2016 for his thesis, A wild schizoanalysis of mental distress in the spaces of modernity – later published as a book Modern Madness from Winter Oak Press and has published a paper, Identifying and resisting the technological drift: Green space, blue space and ecotherapy.

In 2016, Ed was awarded RCBC Wales funding to conduct a PhD. Taking a qualitative ethnographic approach Ed has researched the field of ecotherapy and nature-based interventions and its impact on mental health and wellbeing. It is through this research that Ed encountered Coed Lleol. Ed became a participant observer to Coed Lleol’s South Wales groups and has explored their utility and impact through in depth interviews and observations made over the course of a year. Ed subsequently joined the team and worked part-time as a Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) Project Officer from 2019-2020. Ed will publish his PhD in 2021.


Heli Gittins 

PhD Researcher, Bangor University, Department of Psychology
Funded by: KESS, Coed Lleol & The Woodland Trust  
Contact: [email protected]

Heli Gittins is based at The College of Natural Sciences at Bangor University.  She is a post-graduate researcher with a current focus on nature and well-being. Heli also lectures to Masters’ level in Environmental and Business Management and Conservation. As well as this, she is a trained Mindfulness Teacher and runs mindfulness courses and nature-based activities.

Heli’s PhD research has utilised a mixed-methods approach to capture evidence of social, physical and mental wellbeing changes that may have occurred as a result of being a participant of Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales)'s Actif Woods Wales  programme. She is also exploring how Actif Woods Wales affects how people view and use woodlands long-term. Having collected pre-, post- and delayed-post survey data and running several focus groups, Heli has built up a robust dataset with which to evidence Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales)’s impact. Heli’s first-stage data crunching revealed participant motivations for joining Actif Woods Wales along with potential barriers. Her analysis of the focus group data has revealed emergent themes of ‘sensory experience’ that reveal underlying mindful benefits to woodland exposure, and a ‘restorative’ theme that shows how participants’ feelings about themselves are transformed by the woodland experience.

Heli’s research has been invaluable in guiding future evaluative approaches at Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) as well as providing the evidence base for a Social Return of Investment calculation with CHEME at Bangor. Heli has also been published in Broadleaf, The Woodland Trust’s Magazine for members.


Ben Howard

PhD Researcher, Geography Earth and Environmental sciences department at The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFOR).
PhD title: Coppice Fascines to Enhance River Biogeochemical Cycling

Ben is based in the Geography Earth and Environmental sciences department at The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFOR). Ben’s PhD examines the carbon sequestration and denitrification effects of using coppice material in planned green engineering in river restoration. Hazel brash is used to make bundles, called facines, that are installed in rivers. Ben is using 3 experimental designs to examine if the facines are effective at breaking down carbon for use in microbial respiration and the removal of nitrogen. Whether the presence and positioning of the facines impacts produce an increase in solute exchange and an examination into whether facine installation increases stream metabolism in low-land streams. Ben’s research aims to provide a better understanding of the effects of using coppice material in water courses to slow the flow and improve water quality. The research has the potential to offer a low-cost, low-impact bioengineering technique that supports both ecosystems and socio-economic benefits; promoting the use and utility of coppicing to the benefit both woodland and river. 


Ramiga Kirupaikkumaran

Masters researcher, Department of Psychology, Bangor University
Title: Developing an evidence-base intervention to foster a healthy eating culture in soc
ially deprived areas of Wales using green spaces
Funded by: KESS West and Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales)

Ramiga Kirupaikkumaran is a post graduate researcher at Bangor University. Ramiga received a KESS (Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship) award to undertake her Master’s degree in Food Psychology using Coed Lleol(Small Woods Wales)'s ‘Actif Woods Wales’ family groups as her case study. Ramiga will be exploring the psychological impact of food choices and how outdoor eating might encourage more or healthier food choices in pre-school children. Ramiga will be supervised by Dr Mihela Erjavec, senior lecturer in Psychology with recent publications including, the Nudges Project: Promoting healthy food choices in the school dining room and the Food Dudes Project: increasing fruit and vegetable intake in pre-school children.

Ramiga will be working with us to design a programme to encourage healthy eating among family groups using a creative outdoor environment in which families with young children are encouraged to try and repeatedly taste a variety of healthy foods, in order to develop a liking for them. At the same time, the disadvantages of overreliance on ultra-processed foods can be discussed, and tips for avoiding this shared. The research will utilise our Actif Woods Wales project innovatively, to provide a supportive environment for the families to engage with healthy eating in a fun manner. Establishing a ‘culture’ in which healthy eating becomes an enjoyable part of the normal family routine is the ultimate goal of the project. Exploring the impact of being outside, in nature and of being part of the process of gathering and preparing food will also be examined.

 Portrait of Katy Faulkner

Katy Faulkner

PhD researcher, Biological Sciences, University of Warwick
Topic: The impacts of elevated CO2 and high rainfall on soil microbial community structure and function in UK temperate forests
Funded by: Royal Forestry Society 2020 Viking Bursary

The Royal Forestry Society 2020 Viking Bursary has been awarded to student Katy Faulkner, to support her PhD on the impacts of elevated CO2 and high rainfall on soil microbial community structure and function in UK temperate forests. Katy will use the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) FACE site to understand how soil saturation following high rainfall will influence the soil microbiome, its consequences for biogeochemical cycling processes (the cycling of substances through water, earth and the air), as well as the extent to which these effects will change in an atmosphere with higher levels of CO2. Katy is studying for a PhD in Biological Sciences at the University of Warwick. The RFS has awarded her a bursary of £1,500 towards the costs of her research.

Latest Coed Lleol events
AWW Denbighshire and Flintshire

Wrexham | Weekly Walking Group

  • 05 May 2021
Actif Woods Wrexham weekly walking group on Wednesday afternoons. more...

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Anglesey | Weekly Walking Group

  • 07 May 2021
Weekly walking group meeting in different locations across Anglesey. more...

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Ceredigion | Fortnightly Friday Woodland Sessions

  • 14 May 2021
Fortnightly Friday Woodland Sessions in Ceredigion more...

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Ceredigion | Wednesday Walkers

  • 19 May 2021
A weekly Wednesday walking group in Ceredigion more...

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Merthyr Tydfil | Monthly Woodland Group

  • 24 May 2021
A monthly woodland group in Cyfartha Park in Merthyr Tyfil more...
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Rustic Chair Making

  • The Green Wood Centre, Coalbrookdale, TF8 7DR
  • 18 Jun 2022 - 19 Jun 2022
Learn how to make a unique Rustic Chair out of hazel rods, with a woven seat. more...