PhD awarded to Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) Researcher from Bangor University

9 Mar 2021


Based at the College of Natural Sciences at Bangor University and working in partnership with the School of Psychology, Heli Gittins’s PhD research question - Can a woodland activity programme benefit participant wellbeing and change the way they use woods? - took her out into woodlands all over Wales to visit Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales)’s Actif Woods Wales groups. Utilising a mixed-methods approach, she captured evidence of social, physical, and mental wellbeing changes that may have occurred as a result of being a participant of the Actif Woods Wales project. She also explored how the project affects how people view and use woodlands long-term.

“It was very humbling to work with Actif Woods Wales participants and to see the impact of spending time in nature on people who had never had that opportunity before,” says Heli.

Heli built up a robust dataset with which to evidence Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales)’s impact. She also discovered participant motivations for joining the Actif Woods Wales project and increased our knowledge about potential barriers that people might face. Her analysis uncovered emergent themes of ‘sensory experience’ that reveal underlying mindful benefits to woodland exposure, as well as a ‘restorative’ theme that shows how participants’ feelings about themselves are transformed by the woodland experience.

“The sensory experience involves tuning into the environment through the senses, giving people a present moment experience that provides a break from anxious or ruminative thoughts,” Heli explains. “The sight of the fire or the sounds and smells of the woods provide a focus other than yourself which allows people to relax and connect with others. This in itself is restorative or refreshing.”

Heli’s research is 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 the Centre for Health Economics and Medicines Evaluation at Bangor University.

So, what’s next for Heli? “I will be writing research papers and a report on the results,” she says. “I have a new job at a social enterprise in the Conwy Valley, Golygfa Gwydyr. This is looking at using the Gwydir Forest as a resource for social prescribing based around mindfulness and outdoor activities. A great opportunity to take forward some of the learning from the study.”

Llongyfarchiadau a diolch yn fawr iawn, Heli, from all at Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales).

Heli’s research was funded by the EU KESS (Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship) project working in partnership with the Woodland Trust

If you have any queries about Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales)’s research work, you can contact Natasha Simons, our Research and Evaluation Officer, by email at [email protected]