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Trust away days allow space for thinking about research

Staff from CAMHS in Cornwall at Woodland Valley Farm

Staff from children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) across Cornwall got their research creativity flowing thanks to an innovative collaboration between the NHS and Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) – and the county’s beavers.

Woodland Valley, a working organic farm where CWT hosts the Cornwall Beaver Project, was the location for two away days organised by Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT) this month. The days were a chance for staff to consider their work from a different perspective, reconnect with nature and think creatively about their practice and how research might be weaved in.

Led by the CWT team, Trust staff enjoyed a variety of activities designed to help them connect with the natural environment including foraging and stick whittling. Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s head of conservation Cheryl Marriott also led guided walks to see the impact on the landscape of the breeding pair of beavers introduced to the farm in 2017.

The creatures have transformed the area of their enclosure in a short time, building dams and lodges and creating a network of smaller rivulets in a marshy environment that acts like a sponge. Cheryl explained the beavers’ work has a dramatic effect on the river, improving water quality and mitigating both flooding and drought, by regulating the flow downstream after heavy rain, and releasing stored water to keep the river flowing during dry spells.

Organiser Beth Chapman, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Research Associate and CFT Consultant Psychiatrist, said staff were able to draw parallels between the ‘dynamic chaos’ of the beavers’ landscape and their own work. She said: “Our teams exist in a very busy environment with constant demands, and these days have been about giving staff space from that, encouraging creativity and seeing the ideas that come out.

“The beaver project shows us, however, that even among the chaos space can be found for evidence gathering and assessment, to inform our practice and ensure the best possible use of resources and patient outcomes.”

Dr Laura Flaherty, Child Psychiatrist in CFT spent time clearing the beaver enclosure fences. She said: “It’s amazing how quickly your perspective changes when you come into this environment. Usually, I’m in front of a screen in an office and the only respite is when I see patients. Being here is encouraging us to think outside the box, and breaking down barriers between different teams and people who may not normally come into contact.”

Richard Higgins is CAMHS Lead Research Nurse, and was on hand to discuss research ideas and guide conversations around integrating research into practice. He said: “When I want to talk to a group of colleagues I would normally book into a meeting, and have a 5-minute slot at the beginning or end to try to get my message across, which can be a challenge.

“In this setting, everyone is smiling and relaxed, and when you do start to share research ideas, things seem to flow better, and people are more likely to remember these conversations.”    

The away days were made possible partly thanks to the G7 Legacy Project for Nature Recovery, in which CWT is the main delivery partner. The project aims to improve access to nature for people’s wellbeing, improve water quality, sequester carbon and employ skilled staff and apprentices to work with local people and communities.