This week marks Mental Health Awareness week, a campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation, with this year’s theme being nature, writes Bryn Francis.

Spending time in nature is a great way to deal with many poor mental health.

The FUW is a long standing supporter and advocate of good mental health in our rural and farming communities and putting our money where our mouth is we have made sure that our staff have undergone mental health first aid training with the DPJ Foundation, giving us the tools to help those in need of support.

With this in mind, advocating greater access to the countryside and spending time outdoors seems like an excellent way to address a disconnect to nature in urban areas, but if not done carefully such proposals could have serious negative impacts on our rural and farming communities and their mental health.

Reports of visitors trespassing by wandering off recognised footpaths, livestock worrying, unclosed gates leading to animals escaping, littering and abusive antisocial behaviour have been more common than ever during the pandemic, while the Wildlife in Lockdown study found that wildlife flourished during the lockdown in areas where public access was restricted during the pandemic.

The previous Welsh Government aggressively pursued an agenda aimed at increasing access rights for visitors to Wales wishing to pursue middle class activities such as horse riding, canoeing and paragliding, while ignoring the need to increase responsible use of existing access by Welsh people most at risk of physical and mental health problems.

With visitor numbers expected to reach record levels in Wales over the summer, let us hope that the evidence of the last 12 months makes the new Welsh Government realise that we must not compromise our landscape, our wildlife nor the mental health of those who live and work in the countryside in order to cater for certain sections of society.