A NEW scheme which allows the visually impaired to explore their natural surroundings has seen positive results in its first months.

Sensing the Wild, a partnership between Going For Independence, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust (TVWT) and local 'Friends of' groups, takes visually-impaired people into green spaces, such as woodlands or parks, to explore nature using senses.

With events in Darlington, Stockton, Redcar and Hartlepool, the groups take a walk with TVWT volunteers and sighted guides to reap the health and mental benefits of being outdoors.

Project Coordinator Leigh Nicholson, who works with Going for Indepence, helps train volunteers to become sighted guides.

She said: "I retired from work but volunteered for the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust. My background is with visual impairment and rehabilitation for the blind, so they asked me if I would train their volunteers in being a sighted guide.

"My boss at GFI, Pam Bennett, managed to secure a Heritage Lottery Fund for her scheme, which was to match sighted guides with visually impaired people in the area and get them to walk into woodlands - places that normally they can’t access without a sighted guide

"We started the scheme in July this year and it has been really successful. The health benefits and improvement of mental health have been fantastic.

“People who wouldn’t walk very far have really extended their reach and walked further than they ever thought they could."

This week, the group will be joined by BBC film crews where Sensing the Wild will appear on an episode of Countryfile.

Mrs Nicholson added: "We were really excited to get a call from the BBC after only being set up for a few months.

"At the moment we can only take out a number of people, about 10 to 12, because it relies on getting volunteers that are or can be trained as sighted guides.

"The first few months have been a trial-run for us and we're hoping to be able to expand our reach of those we can help."