Case study: Langdon Hospital

Planting trees on local wildlife habitats can be transformative. Langdon Hospital in Devon is a secure mental health site that uses tree planting for occupational therapy and blends environmental conservation with patient wellbeing.

We caught up with Alex Watkins, technical instructor in the Occupational Therapy Department, and he told us about a few of his projects at the site.

Alex initially led projects in the woodworking workshop and in the past few years has also introduced conservation work and tree planting into his programme. Having originally noticed a neglected Devon hedge (a particular style of hedge) in the grounds, Alex decided to order 180 trees from the NHS Forest to begin to restore it. Eventually, the team hopes to lay this hedge. This is the traditional way to manage hedges in the area and a skill that is in high demand. It also has brilliant wildlife and ecological benefits.

Tree planting for occupational therapy at Langdon Hospital

This year they upped their planting goals and created an entirely new hedgerow on the site adding another 500 trees! Using the fully funded trees from the NHS Forest, resources from the environment and patients doing outdoor work, the project has been a very cost-effective recovery pathway for patients. When engaging with conservation work the groups try not to use any artificial materials and only use hand tools. This causes minimal disturbance to the wildlife and means that the patients can work whilst engaged with the natural sounds around them.

Conservation work has become an established part of Langdon Hospital’s recovery pathway for patients. This project has created a space for patients’ families and friends to come and work together in a non-clinical environment. Staff member Emily Poole attests to the value of the project: “Here they can be supported to work on various projects together with their relative in our secure service. They can share skills, learn and enjoy creative, constructive time spent together in a peaceful, welcoming and beautiful setting.”

Sharing the day with their loved ones in the fresh air surrounded by nature and in a relaxed environment is hugely beneficial.

“For the first time, I felt I could actually teach my mother a valuable skill and I felt useful.”

Patient Langdon Hospital

Excitingly, during the hedgerow restoration project, the team discovered a veteran orchard that had completely overgrown with brambles and brash. This area is full of cherry plum and plum trees and is estimated to be 40 years old. Whilst clearing brash from the sites they also created a dead hedge around the perimeter of the orchard which is a great habitat for nesting birds and small mammals and acts as a structure for blackberries to grow over.

“It was so wonderful, I just wanted to keep coming back as a volunteer.”

Visitor Langdon Hospital

Wildlife at Langdon Hospital

The team also noticed a hazel dormouse nest whilst working in the orchard. Although this type of dormouse is regularly found in Devon, it is nationally one of Britain’s rarest mammals. Nature capture cameras have been installed to film wildlife. So far, they have seen badgers, mice, squirrels, rabbits, and birdlife. These videos are shared on a screen for patients inside the hospital too.

Thomas Scobie, who also works at Langdon and has helped support the nature capture camera project, said: “The footage we have captured in a short period at our site is beyond what we expected. It showcases the amount of wildlife and possibilities we have here. We hope to learn from setting up this project and apply it to other locations at the hospital and within in our organisation.”

Devon hedge at Langdon Hospital. Credit - Langdon Hospital, 2024. All rights reserved.
Devon hedge at Langdon Hospital. Credit – Langdon Hospital, 2024. All rights reserved.
Badger at Langdon Hospital. Credit - Langdon Hospital, 2024. All rights reserved.
Badger at Langdon Hospital. Credit – Langdon Hospital, 2024. All rights reserved.

There are more plans afoot. This year a food growing area is being created with support from a physical therapist and patients will be planting pumpkins and corn. Alex will also be applying for orchard trees from the NHS Forest to be able to fill some of the gaps within the orchard next planting season. Patients already scrump apples from other hedgerows and scrubby banks on site to make fresh apple juice so we hope that these additional fruit trees can add to their harvest.

This project shows how tree planting can be used for occupational therapy. Simply by restoring the orchard and putting a picnic bench underneath the trees in the dappled shade, they have created a peaceful space for patients and staff to enjoy. It is an intimate space with fantastic views of the landscape. One elderly patient, who was resistant to any therapy, has developed a keen interest in bird watching. He walks along “the buzzard path” on the site and feeds the birds. This has helped him interact with other patients and staff. He is now actively involved in the project and tells everyone about the nature he spots. This is an amazing example of how a successful individual care pathway has been initiated with the use of the local natural environment.

The intersection of patient wellbeing and environmental stewardship at Langdon Hospital exemplifies the potential for green spaces to positively influence both wildlife and human lives. We invite others to share their stories of using trees to enhance their sites. Email to share your case study with us.

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