Niamh Briggs during filming on the Lough Derg BlueWay

On Friday May 25th at the Landscape Alliance Ireland Conference held in Killaloe we provided a Walk n’Talk experience at Clarisford Park, Killaloe, Co. Clare. The exploration of blue and green natural spaces aligned with the event theme ‘Waterscapes’ which was appropriately sponsored by Waterways Ireland  BlueWays.

We explored the concept of nature as a ‘restorative space’ through a video vignette of rugby start and psychology student Niamh Briggs. Growing up on the east side of the east bank of the Colligan river at Abbeyside, Dungarvan, being in touch with water is key to her well-being. Niamh, nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, is a scholarship student at UL, studying on the MSc. in sport, exercise and performance psychology. Niamh is studying how getting in touch with nature, specifically water (termed blue spaces) can positively change our well-being.

Abbeyside, near Dungarvan, where Niamh Briggs grew up in the water.

Whereas ‘Green exercise’ refers to physical activity in natural green space, blue exercise refers to activity in or beside water. A book by global environmental leader Wallace J. Nicholls PhD called Blue Mind provides a fitting backdrop for her case study research which includes interviews with other ‘nature experts.’ Fellow masters students Andree Walkin from UL Sport (former triathlete) and Greig Oliver (Munster Rugby Academy Coach-former Scottish International), and doctoral candidate Chris Bryan (Olympic Trialist in Open Water Swimming) are part of the team of researchers conducting the interviews for a forthcoming scientific publication and a Routledge text entitled Physical Activity in Natural Settings: Green and Blue Exercise

BlueWays and Greenways provide an infrastructure which opens the door to outdoor activity from walking, biking to running, for example. Among the interviewees are Channel swimmer Rosie Foley who is a strong advocate for outdoor activities for all ages and Easkey Britton, a world expert in environmental science who has led projects using surf for therapy. Exercising outdoors confers additional benefits beyond the equivalent exercise in other settings and the stories from our case study participants will help shed light on the topic and illuminate our understanding of human-nature interactions.

Rosie Foley and Tadhg MacIntyre on the banks of the river Shannon at the Lakeside Hotel in Killaloe.

Our next project takes these concepts to the workplace and with the support of a PESS Summer Internship we have Masters student Susan Gritzka from Germany contributing to our research initiatives this fall. We also have additional opportunities for short term research positions so please contact us if you are interested in volunteering or applying for research assistant positions on our forthcoming projects which including an evaluation of the Woodlands for Health project with Emer O’Leary at Sport Ireland.

Thanks to Wen Yang, Masters student at PESS, UL, who is studying sport, exercise and performance psychology for volunteering at the Landscape Alliance Ireland where our work was presented alongside the Clarisford Park project storyline.

UL Student Wen Yang from Beijing

Caroline Madden of W2 Consultants gave a bespoke talk on how the model of a healthy community space and place was planned and came to fruition over a decade. The facility which acts as a natural lab for our projects is a community hub for sporting and social interactions and has a 10 hectare site with a 1k trail, pitches and a pavilion. Integral to the development was the leadership of a small core team, Keith Wood (Chair of Healthy Ireland), local forestry expert Josh Lowry with local volunteers, and the application of a needs based approach taking account for the drivers for change. For example the population growth of the twin-towns of Killaloe Ballina from 1996-2011 was 190% compared to the national average of 26%. The community led partnership approach supported by Clare County Council now has over 4,000 weekly users and is a model that is repeatable and scaleable nationally.  See here for more details.


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