How happy do you feel right now? The question is asked by an app on my phone, and I drag the slider to the space between “not much” and “somewhat”. I’m about to start a walk in the woods that is part of a nationwide research project to investigate how better to design the forests of the future.
Volunteers are being sought to record their feelings before and after eight walks on a free app, Go Jauntly, which could reveal what kind of treescapes most benefit our wellbeing and mental health.
I’m feeling frazzled after a week of delayed trains that led me to drive three-and-a-half hours to the Staffordshire village of Barton-under-Needwood, where the walk begins. Surely my mood will be lifted by a leafy walk through the National Forest, a vast woodland emerging across the Midlands.
My guide is Miles Richardson, professor of nature connectedness at the University of Derby, who hopes the data he gathers from the Treefest walks will discover how the age, size and shape of trees and woodlands benefit wellbeing.
“With the government’s ambitious tree-planting targets, there’s going to be hundreds of new forests around the country,” said Richardson. “The whole project is about creating design tools so we can create the best treescape for 50 years’ time. Is the best way to do it with densely packed plantations of trees in regimented rows? Is that more beneficial to your wellbeing than a less linear approach? We don’t know.”