Connecting you with nature

The Occupational Health pages now capture the broad range of advice, guidance and support the University provides to its staff – from looking after your mental health to how to contact the employee counselling service.

This year the theme for Mental Health Awareness week is ‘nature’; whether daily walks became part of our lockdown routine, or we grew green thumbs and collected potted plants during lockdown, many of us sought solace in the natural world around us over the last year.

Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world. - Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation.

As we venture back to some sort of normality, we would like to remind you of the various parks and nature reserves that you have access to in the centre of Oxford; here we invite you to take a look at these spaces through the lens of our curators and researchers.


University Parks

Offering an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, but conveniently located right at its heart, is the green oasis offered by University Parks.

University Parks West walk

University Parks West Walk

Professor Martin CJ Maiden, Professor of Molecular Epidemiology, Department of Zoology, and a Curator of the University Parks, shares his love of the parks and how they positively affect our mental health.

‘I have been fortunate to be a Curator of the University Parks, a committee established to preserve this precious green jewel at the heart of Oxford as an amenity for Town and Gown alike. Unobtrusively,

Two adult swans and their offspring in the pond

the parks contribute so much to the well-being of our community. Regular users include individuals of all ages and families (and their pets, strictly under control please!) who come for exercise of varying levels of strenuousness, as well as those seeking quiet reflection, to observe nature or simply relax. I regularly visit and it is delightful to follow the seasonal changes of the flora and fauna: as I write the resident swans are incubating their latest clutch. We are so fortunate to have this haven of peace and tranquility adjacent to the intense bustle of the departments, colleges and city centre, and the parks’ positive impact on our collective mental health cannot be overestimated.’

Visit the University Parks webpage for opening times.

Wytham Woods

A 1,000 acre area of ancient semi-natural woodland, Wytham Woods is one of the most researched areas of woodland in the world and an idyllic place to escape the outside world. With more than 500 species of plants and 800 species of butterflies and moths you won’t feel alone, and if you’re quiet enough you may see some deer!

Please note: there is limited car parking at the woods and no parking in the village; where possible, please use bicycles or walk to the woods.

A cluster of trees in Wytham Woods with the ground covered in bluebells

'Nature itself is the best physician' - Hippocrates

All visitors must have a permit to enter the woods. Please complete an application form and keep up to date with opening times and planned closure dates on the Wytham Woods webpage.

Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum

The oldest botanic garden in Britain, the Oxford Botanic Garden, was founded in 1621 to grow plants for medicinal research, today it contains nearly 6,000 different types of plant species on just 4.5 acres.

Herbaceous Border of summer flowers in the lower garden at the oxford botanic garden


‘Besides raising awareness of the importance of plants, green spaces like those of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum also offer people valuable opportunities to connect with nature. This has never been more important than it is now. After the lockdown of spring 2020, we saw people flock to our sites (with restrictions in place) to do just this.’ - Dr Chris Thorogood, Plant Scientist and Deputy Director & Head of Science at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

Read Dr Thorogood's blog on the importance of plants.

Harcourt Arboretum

Located south of Oxford at Nuneham Courtenay, Harcourt Arboretum comprises 130 acres and includes some of the finest conifer collections and oldest redwoods in the UK. Seasonal highlights include wildflower meadows, rhododendrons and bluebell woods.

Find out more about varied and unique activities taking place over the spring and summer, including a Twilight Tour at the Harcourt Arboretum and Aromatherapy Meditation at the Botanic Gardens. Details are available on the what’s on page.

Did you know that a visit to the Botanic Garden and Hartcourt Arboretum is free for all University staff and students? Just remember to bring your staff ID card with you!

Three fox cubs playing in tall grass

Tips from the Mental Health Foundation: our top tips on connecting with nature to improve your mental health

Bring nature to you 

Sometimes it’s hard to access natural places because of where you live, how busy you are, how safe you feel or your health. Why not try bringing nature into your home? Having plants in the house is a great way to have something natural to see, touch and smell – pots of herbs from the supermarket are a good start. 

If you have a garden, allotment or balcony, think about how you can make the most of it. Grow flowers, plants or vegetables, get a bird feeder and take in the sights and sounds around you. 

If planting isn’t your thing, you can also connect to nature through stories, art and sound recordings. Watching films or TV programmes about nature are also great way to connect with and reflect on nature. 

Read more tips from the Mental Health Foundation.