Working at Dorset Councils’ Thorncombe Woods Local Nature Reserve has bought a whole new dimension to my work as a Ranger. I started working here in 2014 as an Outreach Ranger, my role was to encourage and engage members of our local community whom would not normally visit or have a chance to engage with a woodland. I worked with adults with learning difficulties, children at risk of exclusion, people living with mental health issues and those in recovery from substance misuse. I still work with a few of these groups now and it is great to hear them, and their leaders or carers talk about the benefits of being outside and how it helps them feel connected, less isolated, and have a sense of purpose. But physically working in the landscape is not everyone’s idea of enjoyment and connecting with the landscape so I was thinking about ways to engage others in the reserve.

Copyright: Sam Rose

Working with Stepping into Nature was an obvious next step and a brilliant opportunity. So after receiving some brilliant training I decided to start running sensory walks for those living with Dementia. The idea behind the walks was to have regular seasonal contact with the woodland in a supportive guided way sometimes using poems to connect with the heritage of this reserve as Thomas Hardy was born in a Cottage on its northern side. The feedback was all positive and incredibly rewarding that I knew I was onto a great thing. People were telling me their loved ones being able recall what they had seen in the woods, or individuals so proud of themselves walking through the woodland and others almost weeping at being surrounded by bluebells again.  These walks have now developed from seasonal to twice a month and are open to anyone who wants a little more guidance or support while out enjoying the woods. We walk gently looking for seasonal changes in the plants and landscape, stop to listen for bird song, chat about things prompted by what we find and always finish back at the visitor centre café.

This month the chestnuts are falling, the leaves are turning yellow, orange, to golden brown and the squirrels are busy collecting their hoard for winter. The air is cool so wrap up warm in your favourite jumper and come and join in the next one walk.

See you there, Claire