Picture of a forest – No masks are needed in the forest

No masks are needed in the forest – except when using a chainsaw!!

In a world where neurodivergent people are all too often told that they are too much or not enough, no masks are needed in the forest.

As an eight-year-old succinctly said, “In a forest, I can be myself. Trees don’t care.”

Sensory regulation, so vital to us, somehow seems more effortless in the forest. Nobody minds if you want to run, jump, spin, or hang. The path underfoot is rarely harsh or regular, instead providing our feet with a gentle cushion that is constantly changing and providing our bodies with proprioceptive input as we walk. We are away from the glare of artificial light, the hum of air conditioning and the drone of traffic. Instead, our eyes can relax in the dappled light under the trees, and our skin can soak in the vitamin D found in the natural sunlight of a forest clearing. The harsh, mechanical white noise of urban spaces is replaced by the forest’s gentle but constantly changing backdrop as we hear the leaves rustle in the breeze or enjoy the sound of birdsong high above us. And somehow, despite the quiet calm, it’s also ok to shout, sing or hum. We’re not being a problem to anyone if we want to make a noise.

You can find space to be alone in even the most popular of forests on a sunny bank holiday weekend. Take a short walk away from the entrance or visitor attraction, and there is always a space that isn’t peopley, where you can breathe out and explore the forest in the way that suits you. Want to lie flat out under a tree? Want to run your fingers over the rough bark? Nobody minds as long as you aren’t disturbing what is already there.

As a career, forestry might not be the first thought of many people, but it is a superb opportunity for people to build a job where they can be valued for what they can do. So many of the young people we support tell us that mainstream education was challenging for them. They struggled with showing their potential while sitting down on a hard chair in a room with 30 other people for five days a week. It is relatively rare to be with 30 other people in a forestry team and certainly not in a workplace with 1,000 other people, all bustling about in the same space. You’re generally in a small team or sometimes alone, working in remote areas. The desire to be active becomes an asset, not a liability, when you have hundreds of trees to plant across an area of land where a new forest is being created to tackle the effects of climate change. A brain that seeks constant variation can thrive when your workplace covers hundreds of square miles, and each day brings a new site with new challenges and things to discover. Verbal communication is not essential if you’re in a position where you work alone for significant portions of time. When you do need to communicate, it’s generally within your small team and in person, not with an endless flow of customers or members of the public.

If you don’t feel that you fit in the space you currently find yourself in or are looking for a space you can unmask, try visiting a local forest and see.

So, no masks are needed in the forest – except when using a chainsaw!!

Becky Wilkinson is part of a neurodivergent family, and Learning and Outreach Manager for the Royal Forestry Society. A former secondary school teacher, she now talks to people of all ages about forestry careers as well as supporting young people on taking their first steps into the sector.

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