Thriving with nature

There’s no doubt that nature reserves provide precious sanctuaries for wildlife. From bitterns in our wetlands to red squirrels in our woodlands, the RSPB’s 220 nature reserves are home to a remarkable 18,000 species. But it’s not just wildlife that benefits from nature reserves.

Nature reserves are good for people too. There’s a wealth of research which shows that time spent in nature can have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing. Recently the RSPB supported a trial involving GPs in Scotland prescribing connecting with nature as part of treatment. Results found that almost three-quarters of patients surveyed reported a benefit.

Wellbeing trails

The RSPB has long welcomed people to its nature reserves both as places to enjoy wildlife and to unwind. More recently, some RSPB nature reserves have developed trails specially designed to help boost wellbeing through nature.  

At RSPB Old Moor in Yorkshire you can enjoy a seasonal wellbeing trail around the nature reserve. While at RSPB Lockwinnoch in Renfrewshire, a special wellness trial provides activities to help you immerse yourself in nature. You can enjoy a taster with Visitor Experience Officer Carole McFadyen here: THE WELLNESS TRAIL

The wellbeing trail has been funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the exercises created by louiseoliverhypnotherapy.co.uk

The wellbeing trail has been funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the exercises created by louiseoliverhypnotherapy.co.uk 

Supportive spaces

Groups looking to improve their health and wellbeing can also benefit from time spent on nature reserves. RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk and RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk have provided the locations for courses run by the environmental mental health charity The Greenlight Trust. The charity supports individuals of all ages, including those recovering from addiction, homeless people, ex-prisoners, veterans, and adults and children with mental health issues and special educational needs.

RSPB England Director of Operations Emma Marsh explains the benefits: “Participants who attend courses are often those in our society who are disengaged from the natural world and might not think a nature reserve is for them. 

“The Green Light Trust’s inclusive programs reach out to a broader audience, reconnecting them with nature and delivering measurable benefits for mental health, general wellbeing, and recovery from addiction.”

There are hopes that the courses could be rolled out in other areas of the UK. As Emma adds: “We are in ongoing discussions with the Green Light Trust to identify further sites where we can combine our skills and resources and work together to support more people across the country.”

Eco therapy at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen nature reserve with the Green Light Trust.

Eco therapy at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen nature reserve with the Green Light Trust.

A warm welcome

Nature reserves can also play a wider role in local communities. Last year RSPB Leighton Moss in Lancashire joined with Lancaster and Morecambe City of Sanctuary to welcome a group of asylum seekers and refugees. RSPB site manager Jarrod Sneyd led a tour of the nature reserve and introduced the group of families and individuals to the local wildlife, including bitterns and marsh harriers.

Jarrod explains: “It was great showing the group around the reserve; sharing stories about wetlands and all the wildlife that live in them, across countries, cultures and languages.

“Wetlands are important habitats across Europe and all the continents, not only for their wildlife but also for the role they play in people’s lives. In the UK, wetlands help with flood resilience, while in other countries they can be a vital source of food for local communities. It was a pleasure to share my passion for wetlands and wildlife with such an interested and enthusiastic group.”

The day proved so successful that the group are now looking at returning for a conservation day to help look after the reedbeds that are so vital for the bitterns and other wildlife. Welcoming people to the local wildlife in this way is a great way of helping people feel connected to their local environment. As Jarrod adds: “I love connecting people to nature and it's core to what we do at Leighton. The feedback suggests they had a great day, so we’re looking forward to welcoming the group back to RSPB Leighton Moss soon.”

The reedbed at RSPB Leighton Moss is the largest in the north west of England and home to bitterns.

The reedbed at RSPB Leighton Moss is the largest in the north west of England and home to bitterns (pictured).

Find your happy place

These are just some of the ways that nature reserves are providing a value that stretches beyond that of wildlife and shows how they play a wider role in the community. There are plenty of other ways to benefit from these spaces, from educational visits for school children, to exercise classes and even creative workshops to inspire beginner photographers or writers.  

Just as nature thrives in the right habitat, nature reserves can provide a place where people flourish too. In offering a place to connect with nature, they offer an opportunity to heal, to find calm and to connect with others.

You can find out more about events on RSPB nature reserves and discover your nearest nature reserve here: rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events

You can also volunteer to help out on a nature reserve. For the latest opportunities visit: rspb.org.uk/volunteer

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