Natural boost for our mental health

IT SOUNDS pretty obvious that time spent outdoors can be good for our mental health as well as our physical wellbeing.

But a variety of different bodies have been quick to promote the wonders of the natural world to mark the start of the fifth year of Children’s Mental Health Week.

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From the Woodland Trust to local wildlife trusts, forest schools and activity weeks, the message has been simple – that climbing trees, building dens and playing in the woods can all help youngsters learn valuable life skills, as well as reconnecting with nature.

On Sunday it was worrying to read in The Observer that emergency talks were being held over the future of children’s adventure playgrounds amid concerns that funding cuts are making some popular sites too dangerous to insure.

“Too many children are living a ‘battery hen’ existence, spending more and more time sitting in front of screens and less time outside playing. I want to see more playgrounds across the country, not fewer,” said England’s children’s commissioner Anne Longfield, who has championed play as a weapon against child obesity and poor mental health.

Mental health and the natural world was also under the spotlight last week in an emotional interview on Winterwatch between Chris Packham and Bird Therapy author Joe Harness.

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Viewers were quick to phone, Tweet and email with their thoughts on the subject, pointing out how much pleasure even the housebound could obtain from watching garden birds at their kitchen window.

Certainly our own garden guests have been giving us great joy during the recent snowfall, with the tits, robins, blackbirds and pigeons being joined by curious moorhens, affable ducks and boisterous squirrels.

In America, a survey of managers of assisted living and nursing home institutions all agreed that watching garden birds had a positive effect on their residents’ morale, and that feeding and watching birds gives housebound residents a connection with the outside world and reduces isolation and depression.

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Braving the wintry weather has allowed eagle-eyed youngsters to pick out the tracks of some of the more unfamiliar guests, while budding photographers have also been out and about, discovering that finding beauty in nature can help to ease the February blues.

Laura Howard, digital producer for The Watches, points out: “During the colder months, when the sun is low in the sky the world seems to slow right down. A sleepy darkness creeps in and colours often mute to greys.

“However if conditions are right, this season can also show nature at its most inspiring as precious winter light illuminates the world. Due to its low profile on the horizon and its distance from the earth, winter sun has a quality all of its own as evidenced by these terrific photos.”

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It’s got to make sense – and on recent trips to Black Park, Burnham Beeches and Langley Park, it has been a delight to see people of all ages braving the sub-zero temperatures to make the most of the natural world in all its winter glory.

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Icy venue gets a warm welcome

MORE than 2.5m tuned into the first night of BBC2’s four-part Winterwatch series this week, the best viewing figures for a couple of years.

And although some continued to lament the absence of Martin Hughes-Games, the move to the Cairngorms appeared to prove a big hit with presenters and viewers alike.

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Veteran TV buddies Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan were joined by the affable Welsh naturalist Iolo Williams, 56, as well as biologist Gillian Burke, 42, who has been a regular presenter on the show for the past two years.

While some critics took to social media to say how much they missed Hughes-Games, with some arguing the show should have honoured his departure officially, the stunning snow-covered venue won plenty of praise.

Highlights included sleepy pine martens, superbly camouflaged ptarmigans and a moving interview between Chris Packham and Bird Therapy author Joe Harkness about the mental health benefits of bird-watching.

The Cairngorms National Park is  the new, year-round home for The Watches, with this week’s show exploring how local wildlife adapts to get through the tough winter.

The presenters will then return to their new base  throughout the year to cover the changing seasons, keep up with some of the key year-round residents and meet the seasonal arrivals as they flock to the wild landscape in spring and summer.

Home base is at the Dell of Abernethy, a lodge built in 1780 sitting on the edge of the Abernethy Caledonian pine forest and perfectly placed to link viewers to the whole of the Cairngorms.

From here, the team can showcase the whole region, seeking out the wildlife that thrives in this challenging habitat and looking at the people and projects working to conserve it, including the UK’s largest landscape-scale conservation project, Cairngorms Connect.

As ever, the programme reflects wildlife issues and spectacles across the UK in a series of pre-recorded films showcasing the diversity of habitats and species that make this group of islands a truly unique place for wildlife.

All the presenters spoke of their enthusiasm for the new base before the show and have taken to social media regularly to sing its praises.

Michaela Strachan said: “The Highlands have a wonderful diversity of wildlife and habitats. It’s one of those places in the UK where you can really connect with the natural environment.”

Scotland’s national tourist organisation, Visit Scotland, and RSPB Scotland have both been delighted by way the programme has highlighted the scenic and wildlife attractions of the Cairngorms, with some local papers predicting the show will prompt a tourism boost.

The Watches are produced by BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit.

 

Chilly new year for Winterwatch

WINTERWATCH will return to BBC Two next year, broadcasting live from a new location in the wildest landscape of the UK – the Cairngorms National Park – which is to be the new, year-round home for The Watches.

SPRINGWATCHPresenters Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Gillian Burke will host the wildlife extravaganza, kicking off the year in the depths of winter in one of the toughest places in the country for our animals.

The freezing temperatures and blanket of snow make this an extreme environment to call home, and the team will explore how the local wildlife adapts to get through this toughest of seasons.

Winterwatch will only be the start though, as The Watches will come back throughout the year to cover the changing seasons in Springwatch and Autumnwatch, keeping up with some of the key year-round residents such as golden and white-tailed eagles, red squirrels and pine martens, as well as meeting the seasonal arrivals as they flock to this wild landscape in spring and summer.

By staying for a full year, the team will get to know the area like never before, exploring the snow-capped mountains, ancient forests, raging rivers and deep, silent lochs in intimate detail. The Cairngorms are home to some of the most revered and rare wildlife in the UK – and The Watches will follow that life as the seasons change, unravelling exactly what it takes to survive in this great Scottish wilderness.

The Winterwatch studio will be based at The Dell of Abernethy, a lodge built in 1780 which sits on the edge of the Abernethy Caledonian pine forest and is perfectly placed to link viewers to the whole of the Cairngorms. From here, the team will be able to showcase the whole region, seeking out the wildlife that thrives in this challenging habitat, and looking at the people and projects working to conserve it; including the UK’s largest landscape-scale conservation project, Cairngorms Connect.

As ever, the Watches will also reflect the wildlife issues and spectacles across the UK in a series of pre-recorded films for each series – showcasing the diversity of habitats and species that make this group of islands a truly unique place for wildlife.

Michaela Strachan said: “I’m so excited to be going to the Cairngorms for Winterwatch. It’s such a stunning place. Full of wildlife, dramatic, wild and very, very cold! The wildlife always delivers from Golden Eagles to Mountain Hares, Wild Cats to Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Pine Marten, Red Squirrel, Water Vole, Otter. The Highlands have a wonderful diversity of wildlife and habitats. It’s one of those places in the UK where you can really connect with the natural environment.”

Chris Packham said: “Scotland – land of the brave, home of the wild and hope for the UK’s wildlife. This is the happening zone in conservation and home to the most amazing diversity of sexy species. I can’t wait.”

Winterwatch will return to BBC Two in January 2019. The Watches are produced by the BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit.