Branching Out

Branching Out

Branching Out is a programme of therapeutic activities in woodlands, pioneered by the Forestry Commission Scotland, working with mental health patients referred by medical practitioners, using interaction with woodlands to improve mental health and well-being.

Following the success of a pilot programme carried out in the West of Scotland in 2008, which achieved demonstrable improvements to mental health amongst participants, the Forestry Commission Scotland worked in partnership with ELGT to launch Branching Out in the Lothians. ELGT staff work with referred patients, delivering activities in woodlands, including green exercise, environmental arts and crafts, conservation activities and woodland guided walks to explore local community woodlands and learn about native animals and birds.

Scottish Forestry Branching Out Programme

The programme is designed to work with individuals, to help improve factors such as self esteem and confidence, and the pilot programme has achieved a 75% retention rate amongst referred patients.

The programmes run for 12 weeks where the participants gain positive proven health benefits through a regular experience of being in a woodland setting. It enables the participants to learn new transferable skills and develop a sense of the environment and its importance for well being. At the end of the course they receive the John Muir Award.

We have received funding from Scottish Forestry and NHS Lothian to run our latest programmes.

Access Practice

We have run programmes with the Access Practice and with the most recent we have been fortunate to have had the use of a site at the Hermitage of Braid. Participants have enjoyed activities such as tree identification, woodland crafts, cyanotype photography, a birdwatching walk and a herbal medicine walk. We have been noticing the changing seasons: the programme started in hot, sunny weather and will finish at the end of a beautiful but crisp autumn.


We have delivered a programme with Crisis at Holyrood Park. As part of the programme we ran cooking activities which included home made oatcakes, tattie scones, baked bananas with chocolate, and marshmallows. They also maintained the willow dome at Wells O’ Wearie by cutting back some that have overgrown.

Carr Gomm

We have worked with Carr Gomm in Craigmillar Castle Park.  The activities included making willow platters and then enjoyed some energising Tai Chi. The herbal walk worked very well which involved seasonal vinegar making and learning more about autumn berries.

Ballenden House

We ran a new iteration by working with Ballenden House which is a mental health centre in Southside, delivering diverse and exciting outdoor activities at Well’s o’ Wearie site in Holyrood Park. Highlights so far have included making beautiful willow platters, sharing poems, learning about the local tree species and drinking lots and lots of tea prepared in our Kellie Kettle!

Cambridge Street House

We worked with vulnerable adult participants from Cambridge Street House. The programme is run at Carberry Woods in East Lothian and Hermitage of Braids. It includes tree I.D., bushcraft, conservation, environmental art, green exercise and relaxation activities.


"Branching Out has helped me in ways I never thought possible. Spending time outdoors, exploring, thinking and feeling in touch with nature, has made me feel different about life." Branching Out participant

Funded by: Scottish Forestry, NHS Lothian


  • 24 programmes delivered with 5 different partners
  • 262 Branching Out sessions delivered
  • 120 people presented with John Muir Discovery Awards
  • 30 support workers engage


  • Mental health of participants improved through involvement in woodland activities
  • Wellbeing and self-esteem improved through guided and group-based activities
  • Physical health promoted through gentle outdoor exercise
  • Involvement in similar outdoor activities promoted.
  • Access to the outdoors for adults with mental health issues increased.
  • Knowledge of woodland areas increased
  • Woodland-based knowledge and conservation skills developed
  • Confidence in using woodland areas improved
  • Importance and understanding of conservation of woodland areas promoted