Engaging with and Shaping Nature: A Nature-Based Intervention for Those with Mental Health and Behavioural Problems at the Westonbirt Arboretum in England
1.1. Theoretical Context
- Nature engagement: activities in nature such as walking, gardening, etc.
- Social engagement: social activities that are low in material consumption such as drama groups, horticulture societies, conservation volunteering, etc.
- Craft engagement: immersive activities that hold the attention including painting, drawing, baking, carpentry, etc.
1.2. The Westonbirt Community Project
- Outreach visits aimed primarily at older age groups in care homes or with dementia. Forestry Commission England staff and volunteers went beyond the Arboretum boundary directly into communities and care homes to take nature activities to those who could not easily visit the site.
- Day visits were arranged for youth groups with autism, psychosis, and with additional needs, and older adults with dementia, and those with mental health problems and learning difficulties. Participants would spend the day at the site undertaking various activities.
- Multi-visits involved a number of repeat trips to the site for adults with mental health problems, drug and alcohol addictions, young people with autism, and school pupils with behavioural, emotional and self-esteem problems.
1.3. How the Community Project Was Delivered
2. Materials and Methods
- In situ ‘being and doing’ with participants : the researcher spent the day at Westonbirt for the final visit of the five youth (Table 2) and five adult groups (Table 3) and participated in the activities the groups were undertaking. The final session was chosen for the study as the groups would have experienced a wide range of activities, would have seen changes in the weather and sometimes seasons, and have become more familiar with the site over their visits and could reflect on their experiences.
- Interviews were undertaken in situ, at the above final visits, with participants, with organisational group leaders, i.e., those who worked with participants, and who brought them to the site, and with FCE staff and FCE volunteers. Interviews were not undertaken with participants who were non-verbal or had limited verbal communication due to autism or severe learning disabilities.
- Participant observation: FCE staff and volunteers undertook participant observation using a template and instructions developed by the researcher. Observations were undertaken at each session and focused on a sample of 2–3 people rather than the whole group (Table 4). The participants’ observed were chosen in discussion with the organisation leaders, however, sometimes a participant dropped out or could not attend some of the sessions and therefore some of the data was incomplete.
- De-briefing sessions: after each session FCE staff and volunteers would sit down to discuss how the session had gone, any challenges or issues for participants, any changes in participant’s behaviour or enjoyment, and identify any lessons that could be learnt for future sessions with other groups. The researcher sat in on the de-brief discussions of each final visit for the five youth and five adult groups.
- Connect—to nature, people, communities
- Be active—move around and become active
- Take notice—of what is around you, of your surroundings, of the beautiful and inspirational
- Keep learning—embrace new experiences, learn about nature, the community
- Give—your time, enthusiasm, knowledge, share resources.
- Social engagement: working and learning together, playing games together, preparing food, cooking and eating together.
- Woodland craft engagement: involving activities such as coppicing, deer fencing, wood cutting, log store making, tree planting, shelter creation, charcoal making, bramble clearance.
- Creative and sensory engagement: using the senses (taste, touch, sight, sound, smells), mindfulness, leaf printing, sound mapping, creating art, tasting food.
3.1. Social Engagement
Can you imagine how isolated people are and how difficult it can be to talk to people, but here they can just naturally chat about stuff. I think people get fed up of being recognised as someone with schizophrenia sometimes they just want to be recognised as people.(Mental psychosis adult group, Group leader).
I feel I’m a secluded person and do not get on too well with others but out here I feel free, no tax, no TV licence, no digital life. I feel what I’m doing at Westonbirt gets me out to socialise, I would really like to live in a wood, out in the wild.(Mental psychosis adult group, Male).
I guess we are mixing with people we wouldn’t get to know so much in our houses [residential] and it’s not too big a group that you feel overwhelmed and where you would struggle with interaction. It’s kind of a safe space, you feel comfortable that you can be yourself.(Drug and alcohol rehabilitation adult group 1, Male).
It doesn’t play out here, I think that is the point, we are not judged on what we’ve done or who we are or the mistakes we have made.(Drug and alcohol rehabilitation adult group 1, Female).
I’ve been learning on my patience and tolerance. Tolerance of other people, getting to know people, all the people here have been really lovely.(Drug and alcohol rehabilitation adult group 1, Female).
Also getting home afterwards, having something nice to talk about when other people approach me about what I’m doing I don’t have to just say about the stressful things I can say I’ve been going to Westonbirt, so it helps me socially to have something nicer to talk about.(Supporting those with debt, addiction and mental health problems adult group, Female).
Andrew moved around the group more than normal [in the final session]. The whole group seemed more cohesive today. They were one group rather than lots of pairs. He floated between places, helping where he was needed, taking turns with every activity. Laughing about how tough it was to cut one piece of wood.(Participant observation, Youth school group 1).
Yes they have put us in groups and they have mixed us up and we could speak to other people and making friends as I only knew one person in this group before I came here. Now I know everyone.(Youth school group 2, Male).
3.2. Woodland Craft Engagement
Interviewer: What do you think you have learnt while you have been here?
Everything, everything you wouldn’t learn in the classroom, like teachers don’t let you experiment but here they always let you have a go. They don’t just talk you through it and do it on a piece of paper they let you do it and experience it.(Youth school group 1 Male).
We talked about not being able to do the things they do at Westonbirt elsewhere—build fires, shelters etc.(Mental psychosis adult group, Male)
Ed was very very frightened of using the saw at first and was very shaky, but he got into it and it gave him a real sense of achievement. They are developing skills. Ed has really struggled with tools.(Young autism group 1, Group leader).
Some of it does tire you out, some of it does hurt your hands a bit (coppicing). But it’s like a nice kind of hurt. It’s a hurt you don’t mind doing, that you get a sense of achievement at the end of it.(Youth school group 2, Male).
Lighting fires, coppicing, layering. I saw a tree getting chopped down over there which was pretty cool using all the old tools, which was really good. I’ve made my own pencil, made charcoal, did drawing with the charcoal. We have used the kettles and learnt how to boil our own water.
Interviewer: Are these things you have done before?
No, never, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would do that. This is all new. In recovery you are told to find your higher power, it can be anything it doesn’t have to be God or anything like that. I love it here, I absolutely love it here, so nature is mine (her higher power).(Drug and alcohol rehabilitation group 2, Female).
3.3. Creative and Sensory Engagement
It’s quiet, you’re not relying on technology, it’s back to basics. There is no outside interference it’s just nature. Being able to start a fire without a lighter and make pizza without a gas oven. It gives a sense of satisfaction.(Drug and alcohol rehabilitation group 2 Male).
My favourite thing was the mindfulness. It’s sitting with your mind, you have things going through your mind 24 h a day right but with mindfulness it’s about you being in control, sitting there and seeing what’s in your mind but not letting it take over and just letting things pass through. You can do breathing techniques as well to regulate the body. So we walked through the other side of the arboretum up through the redwoods and we all found a bit of time to go off and sit by ourselves so I chose a tree and sat down next to it put my jacket over my knees like a little old lady but I don’t care and the sun was shining down on me and literally you hear the birds, I’ve never really sat and listened to the birds lost in that tranquil moment. It felt really calm and safe.(Drug and alcohol rehabilitation adult group 1, Female).
He talked about enjoying being out and how it’s peaceful and an escape from chaos. How it gives him time to think and reflect.(Participant observation, Drug and alcohol rehabilitation group 2, Male).
Amelia was interested in creative activities, such as making a pencil, ink, a notebook, an origami bird. She was making sure she was working correctly.(Participant observation field notes, Youth school group 2).
Jack remembered that we would be walking over the treetop walkway and was very excited and keen to get there. He walked over the rope bridge, climbed the steps to look out from the crow’s nest and engaged with many of the interpretation features along the way.(Participant observation field notes, Young autism group 1).
Yes, it’s been great, it’s a bit different from what I thought. I was never into trees in the first place. But it’s been good as there have been different aspects–doing the tasting, the sound and the willow making. It makes a change from lounging on the sofa cause no one comes to see you. This is different you get out in the fresh air.(Social prescribing group, visually impaired Male).
There is not one person here who in the last 6 weeks has not had one of those moments to be at peace, to feel I am creative, I am worthwhile.(Drug and alcohol rehabilitation, group 2, Group leader).
3.4. The Importance of Repeat Visits
She seemed positive about the session and told me it was a shame it was the last one as she would have liked more and felt she had made friends now.(Participant observation. Supporting those with debt, addiction and mental health problems adult group, Female).
Always friendly but concentration very variable, particularly if he thinks he will not be good at a task. Over the year his concentration and self-esteem have improved.(Participant observation, Youth School group 2 Male).
We have been doing the coppicing just back there and they do see the difference they make and they do the deer fencing and know why it is important. It is hard physical work sometimes.(Youth Group 2, Group leader).
I think 6 weeks is a good period of time to be doing this. It would be great if it could be longer and I’m sure the clients would love to keep coming.(Drug and alcohol rehabilitation group 2, Group leader).
4.1. The Three Types of Engagement
4.2. The Five Ways to Well-Being
4.3. The Role of Nature in the Nature-Based Intervention
4.4. Implications for Management and Legacy
4.5. Research Challenges
4.6. Limitations of the Research
Conflicts of Interest
|Group:||Young Autism Group 2|
|Description of group||Group of young people post 16 Vocational provision|
|Data type: (e.g., community programme group)||Community programme group|
|Age range of group:||17–19|
|Has verbal permission been sought from participants for being involved in the evaluation—Yes/No||Yes—from support workers and lead at school as not all participants are verbal|
|Data: Weekly Comments||Week 1||Week 2|
|Number in the group on the day||9 participants and 8 support workers||8 participants, and 7 support workers|
|Number of men and women||6 young men 3 young women||6 young men 2 young women|
|Data entry by:||AB||AB|
|Description of activity||Sensory Walk, Play trail, nature printing, scavenger hunt||Target setting, xylophone making using saws, measuring, drilling holes, pairs matching game, sensory sounds, touches, smells, Tyre tunnel and bird viewing area.|
|Aim/purpose of activity||exploring with senses, becoming accustomed and aware of Westonbirt as a place||Exploring with senses, observing wildlife, learning safe tool use, confidence building.|
|Location of activity||Learning Centre and Old Arboretum||Learning Centre and Old Arboretum|
|Proxy name: Polly||Date of session: 09.06.16||Date of session: 16.06.16|
|Overall comments about the person during the session||Took part in every activity. Polly is quite emotionally literate and comfortable talking to others.|
|Take Notice||Asked questions about leaf printing.||Said she wanted to learn about bird names.|
|Share/Give||Took turns with the pad.||Asked if another participant would like a turn threading rope through the xylophone and said. “I’m letting Kevin have a turn, teamwork!”|
|Connect with nature||Looked at leaves while nature printing and at the arboretum while on a walk.||Asked about moss on a hazel log “is that called moss?” Showed pleasure while watching birds in the bird hide.|
|Connect with people||Talked to support workers and our staff and volunteers about activities.||Laughing at others’ results during the pair game. Made a joke about mushrooms (there was a picture of a mushroom on one of the wooden discs she “won”). Talked to the volunteer and enjoyed filling in her target sheet with help.|
|Learn||Learnt some names of trees while leaf printing. When first walked along the balance log, she got a bit scared and did not get to the end. Walked back along a second time, this time completing it.||Learned the names of some birds. Discussed the need to wear gloves while sawing to avoid hurting fingers. Wrote on target sheet that she had learnt the words saw, xylophone, drill.|
|Be active||Walked on the balance log in the victory glade and walked through the old arboretum.||Walked to the bird hide and back. Ran back from the toilet as it was raining.|
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|Youth Groups (Number of Groups Involved)||Youth Sessions (Number of Sessions Participated in by the 22 Youth Groups)||Adult Groups (Number of Groups Involved)||Adults Sessions (Number of Sessions Participated in by the 18 Adult Groups)|
|Group||Situation and Context||Interview with Group Leader||Interview with Participants||Interview with FCE Staff||Interview with FCE Volunteer|
|Young autism group 1 (aged 16–17)||In a residential school.|
3 young men on pre-work experience at a residential school for those with severe learning disabilities.
|1||0 (3 1 young men participated)||1||1|
|Young school group 1 (aged 13–14)||State school.|
Behavioural problems, low self-esteem. Vulnerable young men who find it difficult to cope in an educational setting 5 days a week.
|1||0 (8 young men participated)||1||1|
|In residential accommodation.|
Severe autism. Nine carers came with ten young people. Many of the young people were non-verbal.
|Young autism group 2 (aged 17–19)||2||0 (10 youth participated)||2||1|
|Young autism group 3 (aged 18–28)||Not residential group living at home.||1||0 (1 female, 2 males)||1||2|
|Young school group 2 (aged 13–14)||Identified by the school as low self-esteem and confidence.||1||5 (2 females, 3 males)||0||3|
|Total number of interviews (24)||6||5||5||8|
|Group||Situation and Issues||Interview with Group Leader||Interview with Participants||Interview with FCE Staff||Interview with FCE Volunteer|
|Mental psychosis group (aged 25+)||Residential treatment centre. Early intervention for mental psychosis.||2||6 (1 female, 5 males)||0||0|
|Drug and alcohol rehabilitation group 1 (aged 30–55)||Residential treatment centre for addiction problems.||1||8 (5 females, 3 males)||1||3|
|Supporting those with debt, addiction and mental health problems (aged 30–60)||Socially excluded and vulnerable suffering from mental and physical health issues, many on low incomes or benefits.||2||2 (1 male, 1 female)||2||1|
|Drug and alcohol rehabilitation group 2 (aged 30–55)||Residential treatment.|
|1||4 (1 female, 3 males)||0||0|
|Social prescribing group (aged 20–60)||People with low well-being and social isolation.||1||4 (3 female, 1 male)||0||0|
|Total number of interviews (38)||7||24||3||4|
|Groups||Number of Participant Observation Comments|
|5 Youth groups||526|
|5 Adult group||453|
|Higher Tier Themes—Five Ways to Well-being (Deductive)||Lower Tier—Sub-Themes (Inductive)||Links to Three Types of Engagement|
|Connect—people||Trust||The three types of engagement:|
|Sense of place|
|Learning by doing|
|Learn about oneself|
|Trees and wildlife|
|Peace and calm|
|Be active||Physical movement|
|Practical meaningful activities|
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O’Brien, L. Engaging with and Shaping Nature: A Nature-Based Intervention for Those with Mental Health and Behavioural Problems at the Westonbirt Arboretum in England. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, 2214. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15102214
O’Brien L. Engaging with and Shaping Nature: A Nature-Based Intervention for Those with Mental Health and Behavioural Problems at the Westonbirt Arboretum in England. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2018; 15(10):2214. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15102214Chicago/Turabian Style
O’Brien, Liz. 2018. "Engaging with and Shaping Nature: A Nature-Based Intervention for Those with Mental Health and Behavioural Problems at the Westonbirt Arboretum in England" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15, no. 10: 2214. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15102214