Wellness in the woods

It’s mental health awareness week this week and that’s really important to us here at Tortworth. So much of what we do is driven by mental wellbeing – that of our volunteers and visitors, as well as our own.  The arboretum is a special place, and how it promotes good mental health is multifaceted. 

Time outside

Nature Deficit Disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv to describe the negative impact of not having enough time in nature, such as increased physical and mental illness, lowered attention span and diminished use of the senses.  It has become widely recognised that spending time outside in nature reduces stress and anxiety. Time in the woods provides time away from screens and helps us to slow down.  Just being in a green space, with fresh air and trees, can make us feel good.   We know you can’t come to the arboretum right now, but these benefits can be enjoyed by accessing any green space – a garden or local park can have the same impact.

Physical activity

The woods provides a place to walk, stomp, hike, and explore; whether you’re looking at the tree collection, foraging on the woodland floor, herding grazing goats, chopping back bramble and rhododendron, or trying to find where that woodpecker is pecking. The physical element of our time in the woods promotes fitness, and this in turn improves mental wellbeing.  Again, these benefits are not unique to the arboretum – you’re probably finding local places to take your daily exercise and experience these benefits (perhaps minus the goats?).


Volunteering is also really good for your physical and mental health.  The arboretum restoration project is only possible thanks to the input of volunteers and there is a wonderful symbiosis between what the arboretum gets from the volunteers, and what the volunteers get from the arboretum.  As well as the time outside and the physical activity involved in our volunteer days, woodland management tasks provide meaningful activity for people to take part in, which is also good for mental wellbeing.   Lots of volunteering activity (including ours) is on hold at the moment, but reaching out to be kind to someone or help a good cause can also achieve similar benefits and may be possible in current circumstances. In fact, kindness is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.


Our goats aren’t pets, nor are they therapy animals, but they are gentle creatures and can provide some of the benefits of human-animal interactions that form the theory underlying animal therapy in mental health. They can make use feel calm and relaxed, reducing stress and anxiety. It’s one of the main reasons we have them here, apart from the practical help they provide in arboretum restoration.

The Hawthorn Project

The Hawthorn Project is a unique and special programme for women in recovery from substance abuse, where they attend weekly woodland sessions to build confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing.  Throughout the programme they develop skills and confidence that will support their ongoing recovery and improve self-esteem and wellbeing.  The weekly sessions are on hold for the time being, but we are finding other ways to remotely support the women we work with.

Getting involved

If you or anyone you know could benefit from taking part in our projects in the woods, then please get in touch either via The Hawthorn Project page, or join our volunteer mailing list and we’ll keep you updated on when the sessions start up again

Our woodland heritage project (including volunteer days) is funded until the end of 2021, by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Our work with women in recovery is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund.