A Morecambe Bay project designed to fight the isolation and loneliness caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has been revealed after it was awarded £880,000 in funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Around 400 people experiencing poor mental health will be prescribed nature by GPs and other health care professionals.
People referred to the project will spend time surrounded by the natural beauty of Morecambe Bay, with growing evidence showing that more time in nature helps improve mental health.
Known as The Bay: A Blueprint for Recovery, the initiative brings together Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the Eden Project and Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust. It has been funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and awarded as part of the Postcode Recovery Fund, which is designed to help communities recover from problems exacerbated by the pandemic.
Activities participants will take part in include guided walks to discover marine life, beach cleans and coastal art, enabling local people to take advantage of the therapeutic benefits of the coastal environment while encouraging conservation of this internationally significant site, which is under threat from climate change.
Recognised as a Special Protection Area, Morecambe Bay is one of the most important areas for birds in all of Europe.
With over 250,000 birds flying in every year, there are more birds in north west England in winter than summer because so many overwinter at Morecambe Bay. The mudflats from Barrow to Fleetwood provide a vital feeding ground for the lapwing, curlew and redshanks.
Warton Crag, which overlooks the whole bay, is home to rare butterflies including the Pearl-bordered fritillary and the world’s fastest creature, the peregrine falcon.
Tom Burditt, chief executive of Lancashire Wildlife Trust said: "Our wildlife at Morecambe Bay is internationally important and the spectacular vistas and cacophony of bird sounds across the bay are genuinely awe-inspiring.
"At the moment we are facing challenges environmentally and socially, in terms of climate change and our mental health. This project offers an ambitious solution to address both.
"Re-connecting with nature can have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing. Taking time to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the seaside together is a well-known method of helping combat depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
"Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, The Bay will celebrate what nature can offer us and create an exciting range of opportunities for the whole community to come together and enjoy."
Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery said: "The past year has seen people across the country face many challenges, including struggling with loneliness and isolation.
"We are excited to be a part of this inspiring project, which will give local NHS services an added support system and make the most of Morecambe Bay, by protecting its natural habitats and promoting positive mental health across the local community.
"Player funding, through the Postcode Recovery Fund, supports the immediate community needs intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Conservation and protection of Morecambe Bay’s wildlife will also play a large part in the project. The area has gained international significance due to its biodiversity with a huge variety of species, including curlew, redshank and sanderling among others.
The two-year project will recruit a team of 12 and offer six traineeships to young people and the long-term unemployed.