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Wildlife expert Sean McMenemy encourages the care sector to embrace the wellbeing benefits of birdwatching and gives his top tips for adapting the activity for different accessibility needs.

The therapeutic benefits of birdwatching for the care sector

Wildlife expert Sean McMenemy encourages the care sector to embrace the well-being benefits of birdwatching and gives his top tips for adapting the activity for different accessibility needs.

Birdwatching is a fantastic way to engage with nature, have some fun and improve your wellbeing.iStock birdwatching image 1 0

Scientific research shows that connecting with nature in a meaningful way, such as helping local wildlife thrive or birdwatching, is beneficial to mental health. A recent trial in Edinburgh saw GPs prescribe nature engagement as a mental health treatment, and 87% of patients said they’d continue to use it to help their wellbeing.

Birdwatching, in particular, is an activity that can be adapted to suit the needs, circumstances and capabilities of those you care for.

Sean McMenemy, director at Ark Wildlife, provides his top tips on ensuring those you are caring for, have a fun and enriching birdwatching experience and benefit from getting involved.

Tips for making birdwatching accessible:

Be prepared. If you don’t have access to a garden, simply use a window as a viewing point to the outside world, or, if possible, venture out to a local nature spot. Some of the accessibility factors you might want to consider if going to a new location include surface terrain, route difficulty and length, the time required, accessible toilets, seating areas and the availability and location of Blue Badge parking bays.

Use educational resources. It can help to have images to hand to help keep track of which bird species can be spotted (pictures of some common birds can be found on this RSPB resource.) It can also help to identify birds by their songs and calls. You can listen to sound clips on the RSPB website.

Consider supportive equipment. If the person you’re caring for has any visual impairments, you may find filtered glasses or magnifiers useful. In addition, those with limited motor skills might benefit from hand grips or low-magnification/stabilising binoculars. A small trolley with wheels can be used to carry your equipment if needed.

Use winter bird food to attract more birds. Scattering seasonal bird food can greatly impact the number and diversity of birds attracted to the area. So if there seems to be a lack of birds around, this could create a more exciting birdwatching experience! Common birds to look out for in the winter include starlings, robins, chaffinches, goldfinches, and blackbirds.

Remain patient and have fun! When birdwatching, birds may not necessarily appear straight away. So it’s important to make the most of all the beautiful sights and sounds that can be experienced, such as spotting other wildlife or watching plants sway in the wind. Whether in the countryside or from a window, wildlife watching can bring an immense sense of pleasure and wellbeing. The more you watch, the more immersed you become.

Benefits of getting involved in birdwatching

Sue Faulkner, Community and Lifestyle Manager at not-for-profit care home provider Fremantle Trust, says: “Bird watching from inside or outside has many benefits for residents living in care homes. Not only is it therapeutic and helps to expand knowledge, but bird watching also rekindles memories of past experiences, for example, seagulls from their trips to the seaside or robins from their family Christmases.

Bird watching outside also gives the bonus of exercise and fresh air. Not knowing the type of bird can also encourage social engagement with other residents, which is an excellent way of making friends within a care setting.”

Sean McMenemy says: “Spending time watching nature has been shown to benefit both the mind and body. Sitting quietly in the fresh air, or walking in open spaces, balances our physiology and promotes the production of positive hormones.

Remaining positive and keeping the mind stimulated, particularly housebound, can be challenging, but there’s always room to learn. Even gazing out of the window can be a great way to engage the mind. Counting, recording, drawing, observing and identifying visiting birds are valuable learning opportunities that are fun and mentally stimulating.”

Wheelchair-friendly nature reserves in the UK

If you’re able to visit a nature reserve to find a more diverse range of wildlife, Ark Wildlife has gathered data on the UK’s most wheelchair-friendly and wildlife-abundant nature reserves.

Where to get more info:

Birding For All