With the advent of the Northern Forest, and the UK commitment to plant 50 million trees over the next 25 years, there has been recent significant interest in tree-planting. Whilst there is an abundance of willing volunteers, the reliance on their good will isn’t always sustainable or practical – unfortunately the mortality rate when trees are planted by volunteers is quite high.

In tandem with this new focus on tree-planting, there has been a dramatic increase in research and interest surrounding mental health, wellbeing and our experiences of the natural environment. Research shows that those undertaking  nature-based tasks get significant benefits from their work and therefore, in light of the recent lockdown situation, PATT founder Andrew Steel, an ex-serviceman, looked  to tackle these multiple issues along with the mammoth task of putting 50 Million trees in the ground.

Andrew said: “It seemed that there was a lot of energy being put into the funding of trees for the Northern Forest, but they wouldn’t jump into the ground themselves – and reliance on volunteers to accomplish that task could not be guaranteed. There had to be a solution that covered multiple bases and with the advent of nature-based therapy the solution was relatively simple.” He continues: “Why not engage veterans on tree-planting projects and thereby assist in tackling  mental heath issues too, if budgets would allow,  then an avenue could potentially exist to ‘employ’ the veterans on this basis.”

After a discussion with Lizzie Pace from Trees for Cities surrounding an urban forestry project in Hull, Andrew was introduced to Fiona Galbraith  a former Army Colonel who runs Rural Link (an organisation who works with the military community and the land-based sector to develop accessible pathways to a new career on the land). This in turn led to further discussions with retired Army Colonel, Sally Coulthard, who had successfully run a pilot Nature Based Therapy course in Northern Ireland called the Defence Garden Scheme (DGS). Plans are now underway to bring the scheme over to East Riding and work with Hull Veterans Support Centre to refer veterans and work with horticultural therapists to assist those suffering from varying mental health issues. Working closely with Dr Shaun Allan a fellow veteran and former Royal Marine the basis of a ‘Green Task Force’ was born.

Andrew explains: “I can see a future scenario whereby veterans are fully employed in the outdoor or land sectors and enjoying the many benefits of nature-based therapy whilst at work.  As many local authorities and companies have signed the Armed Forces Covenant the concept of the Green Task Force has started to gain traction.  Hull City Council has written its own Armed Forces and Veterans Charter and our Green Task Force concept covers two of the main pathways surrounding mental health, training and employment.”

PATT has now signed up as a delivery partner for the HEYWoods initiative and this is now being extended to the White Rose Forest as the option exists to base some of the Green Task Force project work in a second location  in West Yorkshire.

Andrew concludes: “So many veterans and ‘blue light’ servicemen and women suffer from PTSD and the focus has all too often been on the problem and not finding a solution. If we reframe the situation and talk about Post Traumatic Growth, we can engage individuals and tackle the problem head-on – putting veterans back on a pathway to recovery. The solution is relatively simple and the timing could not be more perfect to help benefit the environment, wildlife and our worthy veterans.”

To find out more about the Green Task Force, email info@pattfoundation.org.