Woodlands; looking after your mind, body, and soul.

Today is both National Stress Awareness Day, and the mid-point of International Stress Awareness Week.

Our mental and physical health have never been more important, with many of us feeling the mental as well as physical impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that almost 20% of adults were experiencing depression when surveyed in June, almost double the pre-pandemic figure. Almost 85% of these people felt, in particular, stressed and anxious.

The good news is that research has shown that rivers, trees, woodlands, and wildlife can all boost our mental wellbeing. We all know that looking at a beautiful view, or soaking up the sunshine can improve our mood, but our connection to nature may go much further than that.

The mood boosting effects of woodlands

Recent studies have shown that those of us who live in greener areas, specifically those with good tree cover or woodlands close by, have fewer signs of anxiety and depression. This applies to all communities, from small villages, to built up inner city areas. Additionally, rivers and woodlands have been shown to improve our mood, reduce blood pressure and heart rate, improve attention spans, and help us to be more resilient to stress.

A hawthorn in bloom, captured by Bernard, one of Ribble Rivers Trust's volunteers and supporters. Photo: A hawthorn in bloom, captured by Bernard, one of our volunteers and supporters. The white blossom of the flowers makes the tree look like it's covered in snow. In the background we see blue sky and trees. In the shade of the tree there is a ewe with a lamb.

A hawthorn in bloom, captured by Bernard, one of Ribble Rivers Trust’s volunteers and supporters

It’s not completely clear why rivers, trees, woodlands, and wildlife affect us like this, but some reasons are clearer than others, after all who doesn’t love a frosty walk through crisp autumnal leaves, the cool of a river on a hot summer day, or the sight of an unexpected blackbird crossing our path.

Other theories are more complex, with some studies showing that humans benefit from the sensory relief trees offers in built up areas of tarmac and concrete. Forestry England data shows that walking amongst trees may even boost the immune system through breathing in phytoncides, an organic compound emitted by trees that protects them from germs and insects.

Although the science behind this is important, it’s also important to take care of ourselves in these challenging times, give ourselves a break from the ordinary, and look after our wellbeing.

Immerse yourself in nature

Research suggests that just a short time spent enjoying woodlands each week is enough to boost your mood, and you can incorporate nature into your day to day life. Walking, running, and cycling are all great ways to enjoy our rivers, woodlands and forests. Ribble Life Together, our National Lottery Heritage Funded project, has enabled us to create a series of circular walks, many of which incorporate visits to Ribble Rivers Trust’s habitats schemes; why not try one this weekend.

Even simple changes like looking for woodlands or green spaces to exercise your dog, spending your lunch break walking in your local park, or putting time aside to explore the outdoors on the school run can make a difference.

Maybe you could try forest bathing, or shunrin yoku, a Japanese relaxation method which simply involves spending time quietly sitting or standing in woodlands. Turn off your devices, find a quiet spot to stop, and simply relax, breathe deeply, and observe your surroundings.

Our work for woodlands

Photo: Looking up a hill we see trees planted in a green field. On the skyline we see bare branches of trees against the blue sky and white clouds.

Tree planting at Beckfoot, one of our Ribble life Together woodlands

Ribble Rivers Trust have been planting trees for over 20 years, and we have long recognised the benefits of trees and woodlands. From helping to reduce flood risk, to capturing carbon, to creating habitats for insects, fish, birds, and mammals. In the last 20 years we have planted over 150,000 trees, with the majority of these going in the ground in the last few years.

To make sure that these benefits are available to everyone our Lancashire Woodland Connect campaign will be adding to the areas of woodland that you can enjoy. Over the next 10 years we will be planting over half a million trees across Lancashire, making the county a greener, cleaner place for people and wildlife. The tree planting sites will be planned with a particular focus on the communities who may not already have access to green spaces, have lower levels of tree cover, and less opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Supported in part by local councils, we are also hoping to raise a significant sum of money from the public through tree donations, with each tree costing just £15.00.

Rivers In The Classroom Runs Again

It’s back to school for the Rivers in the Classroom scheme after lockdown forced learning online.

Rivers in the Classroom is an important education programme run by Ribble Rivers Trust (RRT) and more than 7,000 pupils have participated over the past decade.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant educational activities moved online but with children returning to school – so has Rivers in the Classroom.

Pupils at St Peter & St Paul’s CE Primary School in Blackburn have already visited Dunkenhalgh Weir to see how one of RRT’s fish passes is helping salmon and trout to swim more freely and Burnley’s Springfield Community Primary School has taken part in litter picks and learned about trees in Towneley Park.

School children getting involved with Trout in the classroom.

Schools across the Ribble catchment area and beyond will soon be able to participate in a full programme including the ever popular Trout in the Classroom project which begins in December when tanks are delivered. Pupils can watch the fish eggs develop, feed the trout and eventually release them in the spring.

Twelve primary schools have already signed up for this year and any others interested should visit www.ribblelifetogether.org or contact the Ribble Rivers Trust on 01200 444452 or via ribblelife@ribbletrust.com.

“We want our education programme to produce future guardians of the river,” said RRT education officer, Neil Ashworth. “Activities like Trout in the Classroom instil enthusiasm in children, give them a lifelong interest in nature and an excuse to go outdoors. Hopefully, they will remember our lessons all their lives and get their families involved too.”

RRT’s education and engagement officer, Christi Lloyd works alongside Neil to deliver ten school packages covering subjects from geography and science to music, literacy, art and wellbeing.

Coming from a forest school background herself, Christi recognises the importance of interactive learning, much of which, including tree planting, can be done outdoors which is an advantage in these COVID times.

“How to protect rivers is our main message. Our programme helps children to become more connected to, and engaged with, their local river and environment,” Christi said.

Coronavirus restrictions mean RRT adapting their hands-on educational activities and ensuring that any props used are sanitised. These include a toilet seat which is particularly popular in the sessions explaining what should – and shouldn’t – be flushed down the loo.

RRT’s educational work, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is mainly within primary schools but some secondary schools participate and resources for students up to sixth form can be provided too.

All the online packages produced when schools were forced to close are still available and every Wildlife Wednesday, new information is posted.