Forest chiefs have branched out by backing a series of innovative projects in the West Midlands bidding to get more people to lead healthier lifestyles.
Grants totalling £75,000 have been awarded to seven projects as part of the Forestry
Commission's new Active Woods health campaign, backed by the British Heart Foundation.
The cash will help train walk leaders, reinstate footpaths, and promote access to woodlands, while strengthening links with the Walking for Health Initiative, a scheme to get people walking regularly to improve their well-being.
Simon West, of the Forestry Commission, said: "We piloted a similar grants scheme in the region two years ago. That was a GB first for the Forestry Commission and its success has paved the way for further grants from our new Woodland Health Fund.
"Woods have a key role to play in improving the region's health, offering free, safe and accessible places to exercise and improve mental wellbring."
Among the projects receiving grant aid are Priory Woods Local Nature Reserve and Forge Mill Farm in Sandwell, which will both receive £ 10,000 for footpath improvements, Hayhead Wood, Walsall, which will receive £5,000 for new footpaths and improvements to existing routes and Rectory Wood in Church Stretton, Shropshire, which has been awarded £14,950 for a walking festival and training for six new Walking to Health Initiative leaders.
Mr West said: "Our evaluation of the pilot projects revealed that forest exercise not only improves fitness levels, but also reduces stress. This confirms research findings linking natural environments with feelings of well-being.
"The key to unlocking these benefits, we discovered, was to provide better access to woodlands. We're confident these new grants will help achieve this aim."
* A walk in the countryside could be the last place in Britain to escape mobile phones, according to a survey conducted by the Ramblers' Association.
A poll of walking trends found that only ten per cent regularly take a mobile phone on a walk.
* Readers can get a 20 per cent discount off membership of the RA by calling 0207 339 8500. Please quote the code SUR05. This offer is not open to existing members.