A group of young people sit around a campfire in a forest.

Outdoor research in the Wales Academy of Health and Physical Literacy (WAHPL) contributes new knowledge and learning in Education and Physical Literacy.

In the world of education Williams & Wainwright (2016 Parts 1 & 2) have developed a new curriculum model for outdoor adventure education (OAE) that better reflects the unique contribution this form of outdoor learning has to make to young people’s education. Their research identifies four non-negotiable features of a model for OAE as ‘being mainly outdoors, experiential learning, challenge by choice and managed risk’.

Our outdoor research focuses on the contribution outdoor and nature-focused engagement can make to a person’s health and wellbeing. Outdoor experiences are an important and on-going aspect of a person’s physical literacy journey. In their early years they may involve learning in a Forest-School-type setting as part of early years education or simply playing and exploring nature and the local countryside with family and friends. Slightly older children may become Scouts and Guides whilst at school young teenagers may take part in an outdoor education focused residential experience.

As young adults, people may take up any number of outdoor activities and sports to satisfy their outdoor ‘fix’ including camping, surfing, mountain biking, rock climbing, mountaineering or coasteering etc. Whilst older generations may take up walking, gardening or free swimming. Irrespective of a person’s age or stage of life, being physically active in the outdoors and nature makes a vital contribution to their general health and wellbeing.

Located at the Cynefin Outdoor Wellbeing Hub just one mile from the main Carmarthen campus and alongside the river Towy and All Wales Coast Path, WAHPL is bringing together the work of the Centre for Health & Ageing (CHA) and health board professionals to develop a bespoke outdoor movement track to incorporate ‘green’ exercise features that promote quicker and more active recovery after surgery and improved levels of patient fitness before surgery.

These features will include benches, steps, undulating terrain and low impact exercises for patients to walk, stretch, balance, and exercise to the degree appropriate to their abilities under the guidance of WAHPL exercise specialists. All green exercise activities will be located outside to further promote nature engagement and have adjacent social spaces for people to meet others, connect to help, or address broader mental health concerns that often accompany physical health issues.

Alongside the focus on physical health, WAHPL is also leading research and evaluation of a series of pilot programmes, working with local groups to promote Wellbeing through Nature (Coed Lleol) and Ecotherapy (Hywel Dda HB) for health professionals suffering ‘burnout’ as a result of Covid-19. These outdoor wellbeing programmes aim to empower participants to address mental health concerns including stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation by taking part in 'green' social prescribing activities such as environmental conservation and restoration projects, bushcraft experiences and foraging that promote nature engagement and pro-environmental behaviours.

To learn more about our outdoor research, the MA Outdoor Education or PhD research in the outdoors contact Dr Andy Williams at a.williams@uwtsd.ac.uk