As part of our Youth Engagement Action Plan we asked individuals from underrepresented communities to write about nature projects they’re passionate about. Today we hear from community cycle ride coordinators Zara Mohammed and Anna Canning, who tell us about Woodlands Wheels, an innovative project by Scottish Forestry’s Engagement Programme that uses cycling to encourage people, particularly women, people from black and Asian ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups, to use woodland for health and wellbeing.
Woodland Wheels features an annual programme of rides setting off from community cycling organisations with facilitators introducing participants to a range of activities within woodland settings. Beginning in 2015 with just two newly-fledged ride leaders in Glasgow, the project has now expanded to cover Edinburgh and Glasgow, encouraging people from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds to discover and enjoy the benefits of local woodlands and green spaces.
We particularly want to include people who face barriers to doing this. We want to foster wellbeing, confidence and sustainable living, and hope our riders continue visiting woodlands and cycling beyond our Woodland Wheels events, choosing cycling for health, travel, and fun with family and friends!
- We build confidence by helping riders discover local woods, greenspaces and cycleways, the facilities en route and how to use local cycle maps. We build a sense of safety and confidence by riding in a sociable group with experienced ride leaders and teach simple bike checks and roadside repairs.
- We address lack of experience by familiarising riders with local woodlands and parks through a range of activities to ensure a lively, fun experience and encourage return visits. We are also mindful of new riders, with plenty of rest stops, keeping rides short but varied in terrain and distance (8-20 miles) to provide a sense of achievement.
- We work to improve accessibility and participation by cyclists with a disability, dementia or mobility difficulties by checking route suitability and developing partnerships with all-ability cycling initiatives.
- We address social barriers by making sure we convey a clear welcome message to people of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, and to those who may face hidden social or health barriers such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, people accessing mental health services, or refugees and asylum seekers. Free bicycles and helmets are also provided.
Our participants tell us they particularly enjoy meeting people from other backgrounds and walks of life, learning about new cycle routes that are mainly off-road, and sharing conversation over a picnic lunch in the woods. Some of the riders’ favourite woodland activities include tree ID, woodland yoga and tai chi, making a ‘wild’ balm or midge cream, cooking nachos or chocolate bananas over a fire pit (even in the rain!), woodland folklore and crafts, sampling syrups and foods made with locally foraged ingredients, and seasonal poetry, stories and reflections.
We also mark special events celebrated by our participants. Diwali coincided with our November ride last year, and we celebrated by decorating the bikes with ribbons and lights. There is also potential for us to create partnerships with other community and cycling initiatives to enhance our reach and provide our riders with additional outlets for connecting with others across cultural barriers, experiencing local green spaces – and taking their cycling further.
Developing our work to understand and break down barriers, and improve the diversity and inclusivity of Woodland Wheels rides is important to us. We will continue to gather feedback and improve how we evaluate the longer-term impact of our rides: many of our riders say that they cycle and/or visit woodland more often after participating in a Woodland Wheels ride, but it would be great to be able to find out more about the detail – where they go, with whom, and whether they keep it up.
Most of all, we hope that our work with communities – through all these different activities – engenders a lively connection with nature, a sense of wonder and awe at the abundance of biodiversity, and its importance for our survival and that of our planet.
The Scottish Government’s Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is now open for consultation and the Woodland Wheels team encourages readers from all communities to respond.