The idea of going ‘back to nature’ to find some mental peace and tranquility is nothing new, especially with more and more people living in busy cities with hectic lives. Additionally, this year coronavirus lockdowns worldwide have limited our access to being outdoors and forced us to recognise the value of this even more. Expanding on this idea, a new type of holiday is emerging; the rewilding retreat. But what is it and how can it improve our health, specifically our mental wellbeing?
1. Health benefits of the outdoors
There is increasing evidence that nature impacts positively on both our physical and mental health. When parks and other greenspaces are accessible and inclusive they can promote physical activity, psychological relaxation and social cohesion, whilst activities such as cold water swimming have already been proven to improve mental health and to help combat illnesses such as depression.
In New Zealand, health professional’s can prescribe a Green Prescription, written advice to a patient to be physically active outdoors as part of their health management. Meanwhile the UK government announced earlier this year a £4 million investment in a two-year pilot of a similar scheme, as part of its post-COVID-19 recovery plan. Green Prescriptions are usually given alongside more conventional therapies and have existed in various forms for years. Activities prescribed include regular jogs in the park, countryside walks, community food growing sessions, wild swimming and other nature-based activities, and evidence suggests that the most effective green prescriptions require a combination of nature, people and meaningful activity.
2. Rewilding Retreats
With this in mind, it is not surprising that this concept has now been developed in the tourism sector. For many people holidays are the ultimate relaxation, a time we can relax and get away from the majority of our stresses and anxieties. Enter the rewilding retreat; holidays or breaks away which specifically target relaxation and the improvement of our mental and physical wellbeing, but which are set in a natural environment and use nature and nature-based activities to do the healing. Unsurprisingly given the challenges of 2020, rewilding retreats are becoming increasingly popular, and opportunities are offered throughout the world, from Scotland to Costa Rica, Kenya to the United States.
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Lessons from abroad… Our friends at Rewilding Europe have published a series of interviews with people across the continent who are benefitting from rewilding – because rewilding means re-peopling too (link in bio). There are an array of fantastic opportunities for people in a wilder Scotland, bringing life back to rural communities in a vibrant, nature-based economy. This is part of the big picture dream… 📸 @ronandugan /scotlandbigpicture.com
3. What are they and how can they help?
An example of this is Thera-Sea in Cornwall, England, run by ex-NHS mental health nurse Katy Griffin. Thera-sea offers three-day stress management and wellbeing retreats located on the banks of the River Fal, and uses these surrounding resources as the basis of the retreats. Participants learn how to, ‘rewild and master inner calm’, and help manage their stress and anxiety with what Katy calls the ‘six pillars of lifestyle medicine: physical activity, relaxation, purpose, sleep, nutrition and relationships’. The activities include wild swimming and kayaking on the saltwater river, yoga, nutrition and mindfulness through foraging and bushcraft, as well as more traditional therapy. Some people visit these retreats to escape daily stresses, some to help them deal with trauma or grief, but all can learn and benefit from the experience.
Another example is Rewilding Escapes in Scotland. They lead small groups into incredible wild areas to immerse themselves within the landscape, ‘breathing in the air, listening to the silence’. They introduce participants to hidden natural gems and wildlife watching and teach them about nearby pioneering nature protection projects, giving them the chance to meet the people who run them. Their retreats follow the idea that ‘when we walk through an ancient forest, gaze upon a mountain view, or watch a red squirrel scamper through the canopy, it makes us feel better; it leaves a lasting impression and a stronger connection with the natural world’. They also focus on sustainability, with customer fees contributing to local staff wages, and supplies and services from local businesses, so that they are ‘able to demonstrate that wild nature provides not only ecological benefits, but has a tangible economic value that helps to sustain vibrant communities’.
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Today we welcome a handful of guests to the Cairngorms for our (Covid-aware) Autumn rewilding retreat. Throughout the week we’ll be taking in the breathtaking landscapes of the Highlands in their autumnal splendour, whilst searching for some fantastic wildlife along the way. We’ll be discussing all things rewilding and our guests will see first-hand the effects of projects on the ground. A welcome dose of nature in these strange times. Next year, we have a great selection of rewilding retreats to choose from. As a rewilding charity, we invest all our profits into our work, so by joining us on holiday, you are contributing to rewilding projects in Scotland. Check out our retreats from the link in our bio. 📸 @neilmcintyre3151 /scotlandbigpicture.com
4. Multiple benefits
The plentiful benefits to rewilding are clear; on a personal level we can spend quality time with nature and its inhabitants, improving our mental health and improving our abilities to manage stress and anxiety, whilst on a larger level, the more connected we are to nature, the more concerned we should become about protecting it. If natural areas can be a way forward in improving mental health, then we will need to preserve these. Rewilding retreats make for a unique and invigorating getaway, and with all the benefits they provide, I think they are more than worth a try!