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Did forest improvement projects in the West Midlands raise public health?


A pilot project provided a Woodland Improvement Grant for projects in four areas in the West Midlands that ranked poorly for general health in the National Census 2001. Forest Research evaluated four projects to see if they helped to increase physical activity in local populations and improved public health.

Key findings


  • Sports development and exercise referral co-ordinators helped to promote opportunities for walking in woods
  • Little direct contact between environmental representatives and doctors/nurses
  • Primary promotional activities through posters, leaflets and walking packs
  • Most projects had existing working relationship with the Forestry Commission and gained additional in-kind support from community-based organisations
  • Most health walks were led by volunteers who encouraged and enthused people to get involved
  • Most people attending walks were retired
  • Reasons for joining walks included general health benefits, rehabilitation and social interaction
  • Moving from led walks to independent walking is a major step, so friendships developed during led activities provide confidence to explore new sites together


  • Flexibility: allow managers and leaders to develop projects and activities to suit the needs of local communities and sites
  • Partnerships: woodland managers, health professionals and community groups need to build lasting networks and develop coordination between their sectors
  • Infrastructure and motivation: two complementary components of successful projects – health workers are looking for innovative ways to encourage people at risk to take preventative measures to secure long-term health
  • Monitoring: monitoring and evaluation is essential to provide an evidence base for the long-term benefits of greenspace for health and well-being
  • Overcome fear: people have a deep rooted fear of unknown places and anti-social behaviour so led activities, clear paths and good signage help to encourage woodland access


Funding and partners

Commissioned and funded by the Forestry Commission.


Liz O’Brien



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Liz O'Brien

Principal Social Scientist