Health and Nature Dorset (HAND)


The Health and Nature Dorset (HAND) collaboration grew from existing partnership working between Dorset AONB (via the Stepping into Nature project), Dorset Local Nature Partnership, Active Dorset and Public Health Dorset.

Working closely with others has taught us to be honest and transparent to secure buy-in from partners, by agreeing common aims and objectives we can build a strong collaboration and leave that ‘what’s in it for us’ mentality, creating a sense of shared ownership, trust and respect.

HAND aims to strengthen joint working on nature-based wellbeing across Dorset (BCP and Dorset council areas) to increase the access to, use of and connection with the natural environment to support and enhance physical and mental wellbeing.

While progress in developing HAND has been slower than planned, largely due to the pandemic, we have been making steady progress in embedding nature-based wellbeing into the health system.

Steering Group

The steering group held it’s first meeting in March 2023. The Terms of Reference are being finalised and will be added here once agreed. The membership of the steering group will be reviewed as the collaboration develops. HAND will link into the Dorset VCSE Assembly.

Understanding the barriers to connecting with nature for wellbeing

HAND secured funding from Natural England to undertake some local insight gathering with people with long term health needs. Focus groups were held between February and March 2023. Some arts-based engagement activities with CoCreate are being held between March and May. We will be investigating how we can begin to address some of the barriers through the HAND Steering Group.

Theory of Change Workshops

During summer 2022 HAND ran a series of Theory of Change workshops, led by Public Health Dorset. The sessions helped focus the plans for moving HAND forward. The steering group will discuss the outputs over the next few months and review as necessary to ensure it is a live document.

Give Nature a Go – Staff wellbeing Programme

In March 2022 HAND was commissioned to run a staff wellbeing programme for the Dorset Integrated Care System between June 2023 and May 2023. Events are open to staff (including bank staff) working in NHS Trusts, social care, primary care, and the unitary councils (BCP and Dorset Councils). A wide range of activities have been organised including yoga and Tai Chi in parks, forest bathing, pony handling, arts in nature, wellbeing walks in nature reserves, and archaeological walks.

Feedback has been very positive. For example:

As soon as I smelt the woodsmoke from the bell tent, saw the view and the two lovely ponies my shoulders relaxed and felt the tension that fulfils my life melt away within seconds. It was a rare moment in time for me to be able to do something for me, and to hear there was no expectation of me to have to do anything was amazing and if all I wanted to do was sit and just gaze at the view and watch the ponies, this was also OK.”

Sadly capacity of staff members has meant fewer than anticipated staff members have taken up the opportunity.

Workshop February 2022

In February 2022 a follow up workshop was held to engage with wider partners and stakeholders to build on the scoping workshop held in 2019 and the Ideas to Acton (see below) programme.

Ideas to Action

Between June to December 2021 we worked with the Design Council on the Ideas to Action Community Innovation programme (funded by Sport England). The programme aimed to find new ways to overcome inequalities in physical activity through design research and helped the working group focus the aims of HAND.

Launch Event

HAND was launched on 13 May 2021 as part of Mental Health Awareness Week – which had the theme of #ConnectWithNature.

Draft aims, objectives and outcomes

A draft proposal was developed setting out potential aims, objectives, outputs and outcomes for HAND. This will be revised by the steering group.

Get involved

Anyone with a professional interest in nature-based wellbeing in Dorset (e.g. providers, signposters/referrers, commissioners) can join HAND. A public version may be developed in time.

  • Join the HAND Mailing list – Read past editions here.
  • Help shape the future of HAND by completing this INTEREST FORM – we would like to find out who is interested in getting involved in the different priority areas and what resources, skills and/or experiences you can bring to the collaboration to help us move forward.

Contact us

If you have any queries please email:

Thank you

Dorset LNPs natural health work is funded through core funding contributions from BCP Council, Dorset Council, Public Health Dorset, Wessex Water and in-kind contributions from Dorset Wildlife Trust. Grant funding has been contributed from Dorset Integrated Care System, National Lottery Community Fund, Natural England, and Southern Coop. We thank all our funders.