Great outdoors hailed as path to happiness

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An outdoor jaunt more than once a week may well be the secret to happiness, according to an assessment of the nation’s well-being carried out by Natural England.

More than 3,500 people were interviewed for the survey to test the commonly held theory that the natural environment is good for people’s well-being.

Asked to respond to the question “overall, how satisfied are you with life nowadays?” with a number from zero, for “not at all”, to ten, for “completely”, the highest levels of happiness were recorded by people who typically visit the outdoors more than once a week and people who take part in gardening.

People who strongly agreed that they “are glad natural places existed, even if they didn’t visit them” also recorded high levels of happiness.

Dave Stone, deputy chief scientist at Natural England, said: “This wide-ranging survey adds to the growing body of evidence showing that the natural environment has a significant role to play in improving our mental wellbeing. A survey of this scale, demonstrating such a striking profile of the mental well-being of those using the outdoors on a regular basis, is worth taking account of.”

There are a number of charities and not-for-profit organisations operating in Yorkshire that see just how enriching getting out and about in nature can be for people’s well-being.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has been converting a failed, derelict dairy farm into a sustainable working farm with the help of the community since 2011. Stirley Community Farm, on the edge of Huddersfield, aims to support wildlife and produce beef from a herd of Shorthorn cattle according to a low-input, traditional farming model.

Weekly volunteer sessions encourage local people to get involved with planning, developing, planting and harvesting vegetables and salad. The farm has a small orchard and a forest garden which are tended to by community volunteers, and locals can volunteer to help renovate the farmhouse.

Traineeships are offered on the farm covering all manner of farm work, from helping with hay harvesting to erecting new fencing. The farm also hosts school visits as well as children’s holiday clubs.

Joanna Richards, the trust’s communications officer, said volunteers gained a sense of community.

“The well-attended volunteer days and events provide the local community with a great opportunity to meet and socialise with their neighbours. This social cohesion builds well-being in the local area, as trust, goodwill and friendship is established.

“Without the help of volunteers, Stirley Community Farm itself wouldn’t be what it is today; starting out a few years back as a derelict and abandoned farm, it is now transformed into a vibrant, buzzing place where people meet and work together.

“There is still plenty of work to be done, but already local people can take a sense of ownership and pride in what has been achieved in their local area with their help.”

Natural England’s survey results also identify gardening as a common hobby enjoyed by those who said they were most satisfied with their life.

Allotment gardening has been a popular British hobby for decades. At the height of the Dig for Victory campaign, which was instigated at the beginning of the Second World War, there were more than 1.5 million allotment plots across the UK.

Despite modern lifestyles and swelling urban conurbations, the number of plots remains healthy. According to the National Allotment Society, there are approximately 330,000 allotment plots in the UK, with more than 90,000 would-be allotment holders registered on waiting lists.

Phil Gomersall, the society’s allotment mentor for Yorkshire and Humberside, believes gardening is highly rewarding. “Apart from the light exercise, which will help to keep you fit into old age, to be involved with nature and watch the seeds that you sow grow into mature plants can give so much satisfaction,” Mr Gomersall said.

“Then there is the added bonus that you can eat the freshly picked fruit and vegetables, the flavour of which is far superior to what you can buy in the shops.”

For details about joining the Ramblers’ Association visit www.ramblers.org.uk or call 020 7339 8500.

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