Branching Out

‘Branching out’ is a project which offers a wide range of woodland activities for people experiencing mental health problems in Central Scotland.

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How it started

Research has shown that natural green spaces boost people’s wellbeing and self esteem.

In 2007 a steering group of funding partners was set up to develop a pilot project to bridge a gap in attendance of woodland and forest environments by people with mental health problems. The group included, amongst others, Forestry Commission Scotland, Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, Glasgow Centre for Population Health and Glasgow Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership. Three priorities from the Towards a Mentally Flourishing Scotland (TAMFS) were identified to be addressed in this project:

  • Mentally healthy communities
  • Mentally healthy employment and working life
  • Improving the quality of life of those experiencing mental health problems and mental illness.


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Since 2007, Branching Out has increased its geographic scope. It also works with other environmental partners to deliver groups. Current project partners include:

  • Forestry Commission Scotland
  • NHS Health Scotland
  • NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • NHS Lothian
  • NHS Forth Valley
  • Scottish Association for Mental Health
  • Edinburgh and Lothian Greenspace Trust
  • Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park
  • New Caledonian Woodlands


Branching Out was originally conceived as a six month pilot programme, which has since continued and expanded.

The Branching Out groups each run for three hours per week for twelve weeks, and activities vary depending on the age and fitness of people within the group. Originally the sessions were designed around a small number of high energy activities. Due to the age range of the people involved, between 17 and 88, practical participation for some proved too difficult. To include more people, a greater range of activities were added with more emphasis on bush craft, conservation, photography and art.

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Forestry Commission Scotland has seen very positive results from the Branching Out programme with 75% of those who start the programme completing it. It has also been a nice surprise that not only was the age range of participants so high (the eldest participant celebrated their 88th Birthday with their Branching Out group) but that almost all participants would turn up regardless of the weather. Within the participant groups there have also been improvements in confidence, self esteem and a discernable increase in physical activity.

Branching Out conducted a national seminar in September 2010 to showcase the achievements of the project. Branching Out has received two awards: the ‘UKPHA Michael Varnam Health, Humanity and Environment Award 2010’ and 'Best Green Healthcare Provider' at the Scottish Green Awards 2010. A training programme for rangers has also been developed to support further roll-out of the project.


A full evaluation was conducted after the first year, available on the Branching Out website, and another evaluation will follow in the near future.

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Lessons learned

There were two major lessons from this project:

  • partnership working is the best way to start this type of project
  • don’t be afraid to amend the process after feedback. For example, when people complained about the weather, warmer waterproofs were obtained.

What’s next for the project?

Forestry Commission Scotland aims to continue the successful Branching Out Programme for the foreseeable future, having recently secured 100k from the Scottish Government to continue and expand the project during 2011/12.

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Related documents and links

Forestry Commission Scotland – Branching out
Branching Out Evaluation Executive Summary
Branching Out Resource Guide


Nathalie Moriarty
Branching Out Programme Manager

Forestry Commission Scotland
Central Scotland Conservancy
Bothwell House, Hamilton Business Park,
Caird Park, Hamilton
South Lanarkshire, ML3 0QA

0300 067 6256 (direct)
07584 339 366 (mobile)



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