THIS week's community column comes from Simon Jones, director of environment and visitor services at the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority.

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EARLIER this month was Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme of Connecting to Nature could not be more relevant for the thousands of people who have visited the National Park, and other green spaces, during these challenging times.

A survey for The Mental Health Foundation found that 65 per cent of adults in Scotland say that being close to nature improves their mood, while 60 per cent say being in nature has led them to experience positive emotions such as calm, wonder and joy.

After both lockdowns, the National Park saw a surge of visitors keen to get back out into the outdoors – as well as people taking up new outdoor activities such as open water swimming, hillwalking, camping and cold water therapy.

In addition to the physical health benefits of outdoor recreation, these activities are also helping people’s mental wellbeing and, for many, are building a sense of pride in looking after special places like the National Park.

READ MORE: Helensburgh mental health hub gives backing to nature campaign during awareness week

The National Park provides us with so many benefits and everyone who visits, lives and works here has their own personal connection to this special place. What we’re seeing is that these connections and particularly the mental health benefits are being felt even more strongly after a year of restrictions.

People enjoying and connecting to nature is something to be welcomed and supported and in doing so we can also inspire people to appreciate what the National Park gives us all, and the ways we can each give back.

That can be as simple as making sure you’re following the appropriate safety advice, taking everything away with you when you leave after a visit, choosing sustainable transport or showing consideration for other people while you’re here.

It could also mean sharing your knowledge so that others can enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly, or it could mean getting together with friends to do a litter clean up. However we each choose to do it, knowing that we’re giving back to this special place can have an even greater positive impact on our wellbeing.

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