Yesterday afternoon, the Woodland Trust held a hugely successful reception in the Houses of Parliament to exalt the tremendous health, wellbeing and other benefits of woods and trees, to a large number of influential partners – Ministers, MPs, peers, civil servants, grant giving bodies, local authorities and businesses. Our key message was to reaffirm the need for Government to capitalise on the value of wooded green space as a cost effective preventative health care tool, which ultimately improves peoples lives in a wide range of ways.
Underpinning our core message was the learning from the VisitWoods project, a large scale and award winning partnership aimed at providing information about all accessible woodland online and to promote the value of woodland for recreation and health. Its outreach work has yielded some great achievements, particularly in working with a number of diverse client groups with a range of physical and medical health conditions including dementia, heart disease, obesity, and autism.
Our event – in the Members’ Dining Room – was very well attended from beginning to end. Speeches, as well as discussions on the floor, reflected a clear consensus and a common purpose to do more to improve access to wooded green space to ensure that the benefits for all are maximised.
We were joined by a number of very influential speakers, including our host Charles Walker MP, who is widely respected across the House – not least on mental health matters – as well as a long term supporter of the Woodland Trust. Charles talked of the importance of access to woods to his constituents and the need to improve access further to unlock the benefits.
Our Chief Executive, Sue Holden, used her speech to evidence the important connection between healthy trees and healthy lives, noting that this agenda deserves much greater attention from policy makers as it improves people’s lives and saves public money in the long run.
The star of the evening was undoubtedly Agnes Houston, who was diagnosed with early onset early stage dementia 7 years ago and is Chair of the Scottish Dementia Working Group. Agnes delivered a very personal and compelling speech where she talked of her experience of woodlands and the positive impact it has on her condition, noting “In my opinion enhances the natural endorphins. I feel more alive but have an inner glow, I sleep better, feel better and my mood is lighter, so thank you Woodland Trust for this gift.”
We were also delighted to be joined by Nick Boles MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Planning and MP for Grantham and Stamford – the home of the Woodland Trust. Nick, offered some personal reflections on the importance of woodland to his own life and the need to increase the area of accessible woodland in both urban and rural communities – not least as a key feature of future developments. We were pleased too that he noted our role as an often critical friend – “a terrier nipping at my heels”. Something we shall continue to be!
Other special mentions must of course also go to the many volunteers who have made the VisitWoods project such a success. We were delighted to have 24 volunteers join us in Parliament to share their compelling stories about the project directly to our diverse range of guests, helping further improve understanding of the benefits of woods.
On reflection, a very successful event which clearly demonstrated that life’s better with trees and many discussions to be followed up which we hope will help to deliver lasting change.