Gallery: Smiles and rosy cheeks at High Lodge and Go Ape discovery day in Thetford

John Grant's son

. John Grant's son - Credit: Archant

It was a classic example of the benefits of being out in the natural environment – a discovery day event in Thetford Forest in which John Grant discovered some of the many things that make the forest such a key regional asset

Enjoying the great outdoors at Thetford Forest High Lodge and the Go Ape experience for adults and

Enjoying the great outdoors at Thetford Forest High Lodge and the Go Ape experience for adults and junior thrill seekers - Credit: Archant

Being active in the natural environment makes people feel good, helps them to live longer and connects them to their local area.

So says Suffolk’s Nature Strategy - and it looked as if about 2,500 people who flocked to the Forestry Commission’s High Lodge centre in Thetford Forest on Sunday agreed.

At a time when much is being said and written about the overwhelming importance of East Anglia’s “natural capital” - the services that the region’s natural environment provides in terms of the economy and health and wellbeing - the forest discovery day event seemed to prove the point.

Hosted by the Forestry Commission in partnership with the Friends of Thetford Forest, the day showcased the immense recreational, ecological and commercial value of Britain’s largest lowland pine forest. Covering about 19,000 hectares and straddling parts of both Suffolk and Norfolk, the forest is, in many ways, one of the key assets East Anglia has.

The Forestry Commission’s High Lodge recreation ranger, Owen Manson, said of the forest: “It is everybody’s. It is part of our Public Forest Estate, managed for timber, wildlife and recreation.

“The total number of people who have attended the discovery day we think is about 2,500 and if we have 2,500 people all learning about all the many aspects of the forest and why it is so important in so many ways, as well as 2,500 all out in the fresh air enjoying themselves, that will be a massive goal achieved for us.”

Most Read

Displays about forest management and timber production and harvesting covered some of the commercial aspects of the forest’s life. The Friends of Thetford Forest, a voluntary group that is this year celebrating 20 years of partnership working with the Forestry Commission, were on hand to explain about their varied and vital work that aims to increase knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the area and to encourage the involvement of the local community and general public in the forest’s future.

Also taking part offering free attractions were groups that included the Music Arts Project, Norfolk Raptor Trust, the RSPB, the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Suffolk Wildlife Trust, T.I.M.B.E.R and the Breaking New Ground Brecks Landscape partnership Scheme.

One of the biggest draws for visitors, especially children, was the bird-ringing demonstrations staged jointly by the BTO and the Thetford Forest Bird-ringing Group.

Pay-and-play activities included Lookout Archery, face-painting with Fun Faces and Hair, “laser tag” with Battlefield Live, climbing with Highline Adventure, bushcraft with Back to Wilderness and pony rides with Brecks Trecks. High Lodge’s popular Go Ape outdoor adventure set-up was busy, as was Bike Art cycle hire and the forest’s walking trails - especially as the day came right at the start of the school Easter holidays.

Amid all the fresh air and outdoor entertainment there was one strand of the day that was more serious. Friends of Thetford Forest chairman Anne Mason said the deeply unpopular Government proposal to sell off the Public Forest Estate (PFE) that emerged in 2010 had “not been fully staved off yet” and the group was actively campaigning for the estate’s public ownership to be properly safeguarded.

Ahead of May’s General Election, she said, the friends group was asking all the prospective Parliamentary candidates in constituencies that include and are near to the forest for their opinions on the future of the PFE.

It was asking three questions:

Do you support legislation to set up the new Public Forest Estate Management Organisation and thereby safeguard our Public Forest Estate for future generations

Do you support funding of £22million per annum, the Independent Panel on Forestry recommendation, to deliver wildlife and recreational benefits

Will you advocate this legislation and funding being included in the first session of the new parliament.

The group would publish the received responses to the questions on its website, “so that people can make up their own minds about which party would properly protect our publicy-owned forests,” she added.

Fresh air, sunshine, wildlife and exercise - it was as if parts of the Suffolk Nature Strategy were being intentionally illustrated at the High Lodge Thetford forest discovery day event on Sunday.

It was pure chance, of course, but the event came just a few days after the strategy was cited at a Natural England Campaign to Protect Rural England conference at Haughley Park Barn, near Stowmarket.

As reported in eaenvironment last week, the conference examined the value of the natural environment in creating a foundation for economic growth and health and wellbeing.

The strategy was put together by a partnership of organisations including Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and the National Trust, and advised by Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission. Launched last year, it played a prominent role in last week’s conference.

In a section entitled Our Health and Wellbeing, the strategy says: “Being active in the natural environment makes people feel good, helps them to live longer and connects them to their local area.”

Almost half of Suffolk’s adults are physically inactive and the health cost of physical activity in the county was estimated at £14million a year, the strategy says.

“Access to the natural environment improves mental and physical health and wellbeing, prevents disease and helps people recover from illness,” it adds.

In one of its key recommendations in the section, it says: “The benefits of people being able to enjoy our natural environment should be embedded in Suffolk’s health and wellbeing agenda by 2016. Community leaders and senior public health officials should champion the role the environment can play in prevention, cure and recovery.”

Judging by the smiles and the rosy cheeks at the High Lodge event, the benefits of being outdoors in Suffolk are many indeed - the strategy was clearly shown to have got it right.