90% of respondents strongly support the idea of establishing ‘healing woods’ in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The creation of healing woods and spaces will give more people better access to the natural environment, offering dedicated places for peaceful reflection and offering a positive focus.

Two in every three respondents to the survey, said that the pandemic had negatively impacted on their mental health and wellbeing.

The council’s healing woods project connects with the motion unanimously passed by the county’s councillors (18 March 2021), to commit to developing mental health support in Suffolk.

Since the survey, officers have been contacting organisations who expressed an interest in supporting the scheme, and the council is now appealing for communities to suggest sites where healing woods and spaces could be adopted or created. Suggestions can be made by contacting HealingWoods@suffolk.gov.uk.

Councillor Richard Rout, Cabinet Member for Environment and Public Protection at Suffolk County Council, said:

“We’ve now had initial discussions with some potential sites, which could see the adopting of existing woodland and green spaces, or the creation of brand new sites. Now that we have a better understanding of what is important to achieve, we would like to hear from more local communities about where healing woods and spaces could be located in their area.”

“I’m incredibly grateful to the 500+ people who responded to the survey, and to organisations who want to be involved. They have really helped shape our thinking and developed the idea of improving everyone’s access to nature in Suffolk and the benefits that brings.

“Following the survey, it’s become apparent that giving people access to nature is what is important, and of course there are already many places where people can do this, and many organisations who help make that happen. So we are now working with these organisations to identify where best to establish healing woods and spaces, but also to understand why people may not feel that they can access nature, and resolve that.”

Although the idea of healing woods and spaces has been in response to the pandemic, they will leave a long-lasting, positive legacy for communities and allow people to benefit from nature for many different reasons.

New research recently published by the University of Essex with The Green Light Trust demonstrated that access to woodlands and green space can significantly improve people’s wellbeing.

One shining example of how access to the natural environment is helping people, is The Green Light Trust’s project at Castan Wood in Martlesham. The woods are on land owned by Suffolk County Council, but leased to the Trust as a safe and secure setting where educational courses and wellbeing support can take place, often working with vulnerable people. Over 200 adults and around 80 children benefit each year through organised programmes at the site.

Tom Brown, Chief Executive Officer of The Green Light Trust, said:

“Our project at Castan Woods is an excellent model to show that healing woods and spaces really make a difference. We have a great relationship with Suffolk County Council already and look forward to helping support the creation of more of these inclusive spaces, and empowering local communities to come together and to get involved.

“We work every day with those in our community with complex challenges and needs. Through our programmes, they turn their lives around through the healing power of natural woodlands. It simply transforms lives.”

“The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities in our society and pinpointed that some communities face bigger hurdles when accessing the nurturing power of nature, some feel it’s not for them. This is an opportunity to redress the balance. For example, we have recently been working with the Ipswich & Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, to explore how we can open up nature to the communities they work with.

“Access to woodlands and green spaces has been vital to the mental wellbeing of so many throughout lockdown and it is only right that we make sure that everyone has equal access to those benefits in the future.”

To suggest where sites for healing woods and spaces could be adopted or created, contact Suffolk County Council at HealingWoods@suffolk.gov.uk.