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How the Wildlife Trust helps the elderly

PUBLISHED: 14:02 14 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:23 16 November 2016

At the top of Wincobank Hill - photo Wild At Heart - Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust

At the top of Wincobank Hill - photo Wild At Heart - Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust

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The Wildlife Trusts run a range of projects across the country designed to use nature to help improve physical and mental health and contribute to a sense of well-being.

Millions of people benefit from the work of The Wildlife Trusts every year. From their nature therapy projects to improve mental health to their urban regeneration programmes that bring nature back in built-up areas, people are at the heart of what they do.

It may seem obvious to some of us, but an increasing body of research shows that spending time outdoors and enjoying nature is good for us. A new report, Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside, is the latest to endorse this view. The Wildlife Trusts run a range of projects across the country designed to help improve physical and mental health and contribute to a sense of well-being. They work in partnership with local NHS Trusts and health charities such as Mind to offer access to nature as part of the therapeutic process.

Karli Drinkwater visited the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust group. Jenny King runs the Wild At Heart project for Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust. The idea is to connect older people to nature – and each other. The sessions take place in woods, parks and green spaces, and help participants learn about wildlife and the natural world.

For an older person who may have restricted mobility and memory loss, getting involved can simply mean a chance to get out and have a meaningful conversation.

That might not sound much, but time spent in the natural environment benefits us physically and emotionally, according to Natural England research. And studies by Age UK show that activities that bring older people together to mingle can create a better quality of life.

At 101, Vera Gratwick is proof that the research is true: she says coming to the Wild At Heart get-togethers makes her feel free. “I love that it gets me out and I hope I can always get out. I’ve looked at dandelions, daisies and buttercups for years. But they’ve just been flowers; now I think about them more. And being out and talking to other people about flowers, birds and bees keeps me going.”

Social isolation leading to poor health in older people is well documented and this project is all about reversing that trend. It flies a flag for an oft-forgotten part of society, bringing people out of their homes for the first time in years, in some cases.

Some need a walking stick, or an arm to lean on, but their hearts are young and their minds are inquisitive.

Mary Gallagher is 81 and comes for the tea and biscuits as much as the bees and the butterflies. Sporting floral-patterned nails with stuck-on gems, she epitomises the Wild At Heart member. “I wasn’t sure about joining in, but this is so easy. You get picked up and dropped off, so I don’t worry about having to walk too far. And when you’re here, it’s brilliant.”

The trips might not be as go-getting as in years gone by, but just being part of the natural world gets them reminiscing and smiling. June Jones, 83, comes with her husband Thomas, 91. Visiting Ecclesall Woods in Sheffield makes her feel like a teenager again. “It takes us back. We used to go walking for miles in Derbyshire. We don’t get up there now, but doing a bit of walking with these groups reminds us of those times.”

Being outdoors and enjoying the sunshine, sitting under a tree or listening to the buzz of a bee is helping everyone to open up. They’ve lived long and have stories to share – but will tell you they still have so much to learn.

For more information, visit wildlifetrusts.org/health

To find out more about the Wild at Heart programme run by the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust visit www.wildsheffield.com

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