Did you know that spending just two hours a week in the green or blue outdoors – or nature, as most of us call it – gives you a noticeable health and wellbeing boost?
A 2019 study of 20,000 people by Exeter University concluded that people who spent just 120 minutes a week – either in one block or smaller time slices – outdoors in nature reported better health and psychological wellbeing.
Add to this the innumerable studies that show the benefits of being in forests – even just sitting in one reduces blood pressure and stress-related hormones – then there’s only one thing to do… connect with nature.
The best place to do that is the magical New Forest where we have more than 140,000 acres of woodland and heath, as well as rivers, beaches and amazing wildlife.
The easiest way to get into nature is to just walk. We have more than 140 miles of tracks and footpaths taking in some of the Forest’s most magnificent sights, from the deer sanctuary at Bolderwood, to the Ornamental Drive at Rhinefield. Our shortest walks are less than a mile, our longest join onto the Solent Way and Avon Valley Walk, two of the south’s best loved long distance paths where you’ll experience coastal views, as well as rivers, and heathlands bursting with wildlife.
Or why not take a leisurely cycle? The best way to do this is to get off the road and pick one of the popular routes, including the The Old Railway, taking you down a disused railway track with tea stops and pubs along the way, or the 10.9 mile Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst route, which is almost entirely off-road. Check out our website for lots of amazing routes and find out where you can hire bikes for your trip, if you aren’t brining your own bikes with you!
One of the best ways to connect to nature is to sit by a river or the sea and simply observe what you can see. If you fancy a dip, ensure you swim in an area marked for bathing and assure yourself you will be safe.
From gentle family beaches such as Milford on Sea, to the wild coast of Lepe, to the tiny, secret scraps of sand and shingle near Lymington where you’ll be the only ones there, we have 43 miles of coastline for you to enjoy.
Relax by our rivers or streams, or inject a little fun by trying the stepping stones at the brook near Rockford Green, Ringwood.
Or why not make a morning or afternoon of it and book a stand-up paddleboard safari? The New Forest Paddle Sport Company will see you right for equipment and accompanied forays into the beauty of nature. Or try a gentle kayak trip organised by New Forest Activities – they’ll help to get closer to our watery wildlife, from patient herons to bobbing ducks and the whispering reeds that line our rivers and coast.
Pack up an Enid Blyton-style picnic and eat al fresco, or head out on a bug hunt to look for, and record, the insects flying round the forest, from dramatic dragon-flies near Hatchet’s Pond, to the butterflies on the heathland heather.
And, don’t forget, being in nature isn’t just a daytime pursuit! Walk near our oldest churches and try and spot the bats which come out at dusk to flitter the evening skies. Wait awhile – especially near woodland – to hear the hooting of the owls. And remember, we have some of the darkest skies in the south of England, so take a chair and a flask of coffee and sit on one of our high hills (Pipers Wait near Nomansland in the northern forest is our highest) and just look up to the heavens.
*Find more ideas on how to connect to nature in the New Forest at thenewforest.co.uk