Skip to main content

Outdoor and walking therapy and the like - a 21st century phenomena

The 'rural idyl', a 'pastoral' setting, 'rus in urbe', 'an escape to the countryside', 'village bliss'; illusional and nostalgic concepts maybe, and the ideas were hopelessly romanticised by artists during the 18th and 19th centuries, offering a modicom of hope to those in 'dark satanic mills', and yet it seems that in the 21st century, urban dwellers have never before met with a greater need to escape the pressures and stresses of city living, to wallow in that little parcel of "green and pleasant land", to cast aside the tumult of daily anxiety, if only for a while.

In reality of course the masses are 'permitted only' to view the great green expanse, look but don't touch, 'private', keep out, keep to the footpath, no right of way, 'beware of the bull' (there's still a sign to this effect near Bordesley Station, once a cattle station), and here I'm cynical, but thank god we have portions of life with 'time for leisure, in which to pursue blissful passtime contentment in 'God's Pasture', and wonderful OS maps so that we can avoid treacherous country lanes, "Whoa, slow down man!" - there I go again.
An 1889 etching of the Forest of Arden, created by John Macpherson for a series by Frederick Gard Fleay (Wiki)
Anyway over 1.101million people live together in varying states of harmony and conflict in Birmingham's 267.8 K². There are many reasons for human clusterings on this scale, 'survival' being one, 'convenience' for sure. But as mental health concerns grow, along with a struggling NHS and dwindling local authority services, many people struggle for a daily dose of contentment, therapeutic passtime has never been more relevant. GP's are now, so I'm told, prescribing healthy outdoor pursuit in healthy green space. So how does this work?
18th century Birmingham
'Vitamin N'
I think it was Richard Louve advocating the essence of a daily dose of 'Vitamin N' (N for nature) for mental well being, and other 'medicians' (not a word) have joined the chorus with advice to combat our mental ills, for we are all vulnerable to a lesser or greater extent. 

It's quite easy for me to understand the therapeutic elements involved in exposure to pleasant green space, having spent a lifetime drawn to meadows, woodland, wetlands in time of stress. Realising at quite an early age that these were the places that brought relief from teenage anxieties and the bad effects of chemical substances. Others were not so fortunate and sought the light in mind altering narcotics, only to be drawn deeper into the darkness and demise.
Just one example of many positive experiences was an occassion in which I felt totally at one with natural surrounds, rabbits hopping nonchalantly around me as I lay prostrate in a field at Clent in the early hours around Summer 1976, unable to sleep because of a misuse of benzedrine. Feeling disgusted at not being in control with the euphoria long gone, what a mess. From then on I knew where the answers might be found.


Opportunities to escape- 
The transport system is relatively accessible to all, making escape possible, bus, train or tram gets you out of the city at reasonable off-peak cost, and imagine how 19th Century city dwellers felt as the new railway system increased their potential to visit settings similar to that depicted above (top). The Forest of Arden, just up the Stratford Road.
18th C. Romanticism
And for those enjoying a good walk, there is much improved facility and information in modern cities, and the opportunities are many, short circuits or longer rambling sojourns are possible - "head thineself west and thee might not see another soul until reaching Aberystwyth".

The Rea Valley, from Highgate heading south to Waseley Hills Country Park in 3 walking hours, and if time permits onward through rural splender -


Joseph Chamberlain's Highbury - 
"rus in urbe an illusion of countryside created by a building or garden within a city. The phrase, which is Latin and means literally 'country in the city', was coined originally by the Spanish-born Latin epigrammatist Martial (ad c.40 to c.104)."

And one doesn't have to wander great miles distant to enjoy the therapeutic nature of nature. Greenery is with us and sometimes on the doorstep or at least a short walk away.


'Get Walking Keep Walking' was a Natural England project to encourage walking and the development of creative urban walks, and from this project many volunteers were trained as walk leaders and they in turn encouraged family, friends and strangers to walk and to keep walking, and many are walking still, it's a big part of their lives. And yet there are 10's maybe 100's of thousands struggling to walk, some because of physical difficulty but many because they are mentally unconditioned. 









Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Highbury Park Friends January 2017 newsletter

http://highburyparkfriends.org.uk/text/newsletter/HPFbulletinjanuary2017.pdf

Join Highbury Park Friends to get up to date information about this wonderful park - follow the link above for the latest newsletter.

There's so much going on already and this is set to increase as the Chamberlain Highbury Trust look to bring many new and exciting ideas to the Highbury estate and adjoining park land. Check out their website on the links below

https://chamberlainhighburytrust.wordpress.com

https://www.facebook.com/ChamberlainHighbury/

Weekly and monthly activities incuding 'Woodland Wednesdays' with the Rangers and B&BCWT, supported by NIA (Nature Improvement Area) funding.

Woodland Play after school club, every Wednesday at the Orchard - Highbury Orchard Community Interest Company oversee this -

http://www.peopleandland.org.uk/wp/?page_id=250

http://www.peopleandland.org.uk/wp/







A visiting student from Virginia asks -

Questions
Q1 What do you think are the biggest benefits of teaching and using traditional woodland management techniques in city parks?
A1. The essence of a Ranger’s role is to engage the community at large with the aim of encouraging more people to use parks and green spaces. Therefore a range of themes, topics and activities are employed to meet the broad interests and diverse nature of the public, involving people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities etc. 
The ‘woodland’ theme seems to have universal appeal and is steeped in history, ecology, science, spirituality, mythology and culturally, much more.
So generally we can assume people want to learn something new, make something using natural resources and have an involvement in their local green space, so that a few basic skills, some knowledge and a morsel of understanding related to ecological principles allows people to feel good about themselves and enables them to share these good feelings, acquired skills and gained knowledge with…

Ecotones and Succession = TENSION

The term 'ecotone' cropped up this week as a Tree Officer colleague and I looked at Holders Woods in an exercise to describe the woodland structure, composition and current management.
The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension. (Wiki)

Ecotones are generally recognised for ecological richness and a good place to observe the 'tensions' and interactions between certain animals and plants.

A woodland edge for example is often regarded as the richest part of a woodland, especially if the edge is bordered by grassland meadow or water.

The Rea Valley in this regard is a wonderful mix of urban ecosystems and ecotones, and one of my favourite locations is the developing oak woodland at the edge of Holders Woods. Undoubtedly the result of acorn planting Jays, we find oaks ranging from year 1 to year 50, but with a majority of young trees around 10-20 years, sugge…