Ecotherapy meet the team - Project Manager Kathy Sturgess

Centre for nature and green living

Meet the team – Ecotherapy Project Manager Kathy Sturgess

Ecotherapy Project Manager Kathy Sturgess
Ecotherapy Project Manager Kathy Sturgess

What is your role at St Nicks and what training, employment and interests led you to this role?

I project manage the Ecotherapy Programme at St Nicks and have done so since the project started in 2015. Prior to joining St Nicks, I was a Service Development Senior Manager at York Mind and had been with the organisation for over 15 years. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bs in Vocational Rehabilitation and Counselling with specialism in mental health. Outside of work & study, I’ve always held a strong interest in nature and the natural world and since I can recall, been aware of the positive impact that time outside has on me and those close to me. I’m also passionate about nurturing communities & work within the voluntary sector. My role at St Nicks combines many of the things I value alongside my professional training & work experience, a true dream role and one I feel honoured to have.

What does a typical day involve?

Fly Agaric mushroom taken by Ecotherapy Project Manager Kathy Sturgess on a nature walk

Fly Agaric mushroom spotted by Kathy on a nature walk

No two days are same! Behind the scenes I’m busy with things like reports, budgets, funding applications, development and partnership work, project management stuff; but the best bit of my day is the face-to-face work alongside Ecotherapy members. I spend quite a bit of time in one-to-one mentoring sessions and also try to get out on the nature reserve as much as possible, so I attend as many of the groups as time allows. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such a strong and devoted Ecotherapy team who passionately support the project and help make it the success that it is. I feel really lucky to do the job that I do.

What aspects of Ecotherapy are you passionate about and why is Ecotherapy so important?

I am hugely passionate about supporting people to build a relationship with nature as a tool to help improve overall mental and physical wellbeing. Over the last decade or so, there has been an ever-increasing evidence base proving those benefits, something I’ve witnessed first-hand at St Nicks for years. I also see the positive effects of sharing knowledge and nature observations together within the Ecotherapy groups. This plays a big role in people connecting to each other. It’s becoming widely accepted around the world that we all have a responsibility regarding climate change. I think by creating a closer connection to the natural world and local communities, we are more likely to make greener lifestyle choices which also has a positive impact on personal wellbeing. I draw many parallels between nature and wellbeing; nurture and patience being two of the greatest. Perhaps Audrey Hepburn sums Ecotherapy up best with one of my favourite quotes, ‘’To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow’’.

What would you say to somebody who is thinking about enrolling on to Ecotherapy?

Ecotherapy Project manager Kathy Sturgess holding a tansy beetle at St Nicks

Kathy holding a tansy beetle at St Nicks

Join us! Anyone looking to improve their overall health and wellbeing is welcome. There are so many different, dynamic and creative ways to connect with nature. The entire Ecotherapy programme is developed around this very principle. Our aim is to support people to connect with nature in the best way for them and I think our groups cover quite a variety of ways to do just that. We have what I call our ‘muddy boot’ groups which include gardening & conservation; our ‘connect creatively’ groups exploring nature-based art, writing & reading and our ‘green exercise’ groups designed to support both mental and physical wellbeing. I would encourage anyone who wants to know more about Ecotherapy to drop me an email on or give me a bell on 01904 411 821. We’re friendly & approachable and happy to chat the project through, just get in touch.

 What’s your favourite way to connect with nature?

Tough question, so many answers but perhaps the overarching thing that helps me connect is to remember to just stop, be still and notice. Focusing on a specific sight, smell or sound outdoors can be so rewarding & really helps ground me, whether I’m in an urban area or deep in the countryside. I try and do this whenever I’m outdoors doing things I enjoy like gardening, walking & cycling. I also really like to follow the seasons and travel to places where natural things only occur at certain times of the year like seals pupping at the coast or heather blooming on the moors. This autumn I spent a lot of time in the woods looking for fungi & became utterly fascinated with the life cycle of a mushroom & learned just how important fungi is to life as we know it. Even though I was delighted to see two new species of fungus at St Nicks this year, spotting a Fly Agaric is still tops for me.

Do you have a top tip for others who want to improve their wellbeing through connection with nature?

Ecotherapy Project Manager Kathy Sturgess behind a huge Fly Agaric

Kathy smiling behind a huge Fly Agaric mushroom

Be curious! Notice the detail of a leaf, sow some seeds, start a nature journal or learn to identify some of the plants or trees you pass by regularly. Some may wish to throw on a pair of hiking boots & head to the hills or the beach, while others might open their window & learn to identify different birdsong or paint the sunset as seen from their kitchen table. Just give yourself free license to connect to nature in any way that brings you into the natural world. There is no wrong way to connect, be curious and explore what works for you. Nurture any new awareness in nature & reap the benefits that are sure to follow.

18 December 2020 | Categories: Ecotherapy, Inspiration | Tags: career, day in the life, diary, ecotherapy, help, Inspiration, mental health, pathway, staff, vocation, work