Abberley Hall’s new headmaster talks to Sally Jones about using nature and the outdoors to help deal with Covid restrictions and boost children’s mental health

Jonnie Besley, the new headmaster of Abberley Hall, the outdoors Worcestershire prep school, is passionate about the benefits of nature and the countryside on children’s mental and physical wellbeing.

The famously adventurous Besley who during his 20s organised Land Rover expeditions through Africa, is determined to share his longstanding love of woods, wild water and tree houses as an escape from the stresses of modern life.

“When I first visited Abberley Hall, I was stunned by its beautiful setting,” he said, “acres of glorious woodland, pools and countryside where the children can run wild, enjoy the outdoors and get back to nature. What particularly caught my eye was the lake containing several species of fish and a fine tree house, which immediately took me back to my own childhood.

“Some of my happiest early memories are of building one with my dad, in a large walnut tree in our garden, and of spending countless hours in it with friends.

Worcester News:

"These are the sort of experiences all our children need and deserve. We live in an increasingly fast-paced, pressurised world with less time and space to enjoy the soothing, inspiring effect of nature. We rarely make time to enjoy simple pleasures that are crucial to children’s mental health.

“Research shows that the pressures of exams, changing relationships, celebrity culture, body image and social media have triggered clinically diagnosable mental illness in one in 10 children aged between five and 16. More sedentary lifestyles have also exacerbated the problem of child obesity.

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“We now understand far more about the need to interact with nature. More schools are embracing the Forest School movement and seeing the positive impact of outdoor learning. It is crucial for everyone, especially children to get off their screens and outside into the open air.

“That’s one reason we’ve been staging open days as ‘Picnics in the Park’, showcasing our stunning natural environment. I’m also doing a number of my face-to-face meetings with children out of doors.

“I really enjoyed interviewing one lad, a keen fisherman, not in my study but fishing on the Abberley lake. To his delight he caught a fish – and I offered him a place here. It was a win-win for both of us. I certainly foresee further fishing expeditions like this over the next few months – and more treehouses springing up in the Abberley Woods.”