Bush Connections linking people with a disability and the bush
Friday 15 March, 2019
Bush Connections combines forest therapy and volunteer conservation work to improve the physical and mental health of people with disabilities.
The Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku, known as forest therapy is gaining popularity in Australia. It’s used as a health remedy for people living in urban environments. In Melbourne disability service Milparinka uses forest therapy to help people with a disability.
Shinrin Yoku was developed in Japan during the 1980s to combat the negative effects of living in a city. It’s based on research that has found spending time in nature has strong health benefits; reduced anxiety, lower blood pressure and improved mental health.
The forest therapy experience involves a slow guided walk through nature, sensory and mindfulness activities with a trained guide and concludes with a tea ceremony (the tea often contains locally foraged plants from the forest).
Bush Connections guide Nita McIntyre combines the forest therapy formula with physical park maintenance work led a park ranger.
‘The results have been outstanding for the participants. Participants make strong connections socially and with the natural world which benefits them and the environment” said Ms McIntyre.
Multiple sessions each week with groups of adults with disabilities, who have a range of special needs. The groups also work on various conservation projects at Gresswell Forest in Bundoora and conclude the day with a forest therapy session with Ms McIntyre.
Parks Victoria ranger Simeon Buckley works with the Bush Connections participants and other volunteer community groups, on a range of projects including; weeding, clearing, planting, rubbish removal and regenerating the remnant native woodlands in the park.
Volunteering in the park gives participants an opportunity to build skills and fitness, deepen their connection to the natural world and provide a service to the environment and Parks Victoria.
Quotes attributable to Bush Connections Facilitator Nita McIntyre
“We see participants build a deep connection with the natural world. The connection often relaxes the mind and body in an effortless, though sometimes quite profound way.”
"The benefits of spending time in nature for our mind and body are well documented. The sensory experience of being in nature is important for everyone, however for those with sensory issues this experience can be quite powerful."
"I can honestly say I would probably turn up whether I was being paid or not! It’s been a very enriching and sometimes moving experience to be a part of this program"
Quotes attributable to Parks Victoria Ranger Simeon Buckley:
“Participants of Nita’s program seem incredibly calm and peaceful when they are in the middle of a session surrounded by the forest, they seem to be absorbing their surroundings. It’s very powerful and rewarding to witness.”
“It is fantastic to see participants connect with the ecology of Gresswell Forest in such a meaningful and constructive way. One of my primary goals as a ranger is to help people from all walks of life engage with nature."