Lottery boost for iCARP project

  • Date

    Tue 25 Jul 23

Two fishermen by a lake

A world-leading research programme into an innovative treatment for mental health has been awarded £250,000 in Lottery funding, securing the future of the scheme.

iCARP - Investigating Countryside and Angling Research Projects - was set up in 2022 to provide carp fishing and other countryside engagement opportunities as a source of therapeutic support for those dealing with the consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bereavement or other life circumstances and mental health conditions. 

The University of Essex project could see GPs prescribe fishing to treat PTSD, as academics look to unlock vital new treatments which could aid countless thousands who struggle with their mental health.

PTSD can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event, such as combat, assault or disaster. While most people have some stress reactions after a trauma, if reactions to this trauma don't go away over time or continue to disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.

Military survivors are one of the most vulnerable groups to PTSD and many go without treatment due to a lack of provision within the NHS for multiple trauma PTSD.

Located in farmland near Harwich, iCARP is based at Lifted Lakes, home to three lakes stocked with high-quality fish that have been donated by fish farms across the UK, including the Environment Agency’s national fish farm. As well as providing therapy through carp fishing, the centre also includes a number of beehives producing award-winning honey, a collection of rare breed chickens and a designated wildlife sanctuary.

iCARP was set up by Dr Mark Wheeler, a chartered psychologist and an experienced mental health therapist with over ten years’ experience of working in the NHS. With an expertise in treating trauma, his PhD focused on the benefits of group outdoor activities and the subsequent reduction of PTSD symptoms in military veterans. Through the provision of this Lottery funding, Dr Wheeler will have the opportunity to continue providing these therapies in Harwich and collate further research into how outdoor activities can benefit in the treatment of trauma and other aspects of mental health.

Dr Wheeler explained: “This new injection of funds will secure the future of this hugely important programme and allow us to continue our research into the effectiveness of outdoor activities and countryside activities in the treatment of trauma related conditions.

“Working in partnership with the University of Essex, this research is playing a vital part in redefining how we approach the treatment around mental health and potentially make a transformative impact on the lives of many people who are currently not able to access appropriate treatment.”

Dr Nick Cooper from the University of Essex added: “We are thrilled to see this further investment into the iCARP project. The funding secures the research opportunities available through this project and provides the potential for truly transformative treatments that can improve the lives of anyone who struggles with PTSD or other complicated mental health conditions.

“The prospect of GPs being able to prescribe fishing as a treatment is truly ground-breaking and our preliminary research shows it makes a real difference.”