Do we need a Natural Health Service?
New report reveals the health benefits of connecting with nature and why it's excellent value for money.
Researchers at Leeds Beckett University have analysed the impacts on people taking part in the nature-conservation activities offered by The Wildlife Trusts.
The subsequent report shows that participation in outdoor nature-conservation activities improves both physical and emotional health in those suffering from anxiety and mild depression, for example.
People who have low levels of well-being feel healthier and happier when they’re connected to wildlife and wild places.
People who had taken part in these activities felt more able to get back into work and needed fewer visits to their GP.
“Evidence shows that nature volunteering or taking part in a more specialised health and nature project really works. People who have low levels of well-being feel healthier and happier when they’re connected to wildlife and wild places," explains Dom Higgins, nature and well-being manager at The Wildlife Trusts.
This new report also revealed that not only does prescribing nature give positive results, but it is also great value for money. The researchers calculated the ‘social return’ on investment for every £1 invested in the projects. They found that for every £1 invested in regular nature volunteering projects there is an £8.50 social return.
Though it is reported in sterling, the social return of an investment is a way of conveying the non-monetary value of a project, in terms of benefits to society. In this case, the value comes from creating healthy lifestyles and tackling physical inactivity, loneliness, and poor mental health.
Participants have reported such positive outcomes as being able to quit smoking, feeling re-engaged with society after a period of illness, and lessened symptoms of depression and agitation.
“We want to see the concept of nature on prescription becoming a core part of the National Health Service (NHS) mental well-being programmes.” Says Anne-Marie Bagnall, professor of health and well-being evidence at Leeds Beckett University. “This new report shows the enormous value of a 'natural health service'. It’s also important to have more investment in Wildlife Trust outdoor volunteering, which has been proven to improve mental, physical and social well-being.”
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This is not some new-fangled idea, however. A whole raft of studies have demonstrated a link between a strong connection to nature and higher life satisfaction, and in 2018 GPs in Shetland began prescribing nature to their patients, following a very successful pilot project. They have seen measurable benefits from this approach, recommending time out in nature in conjunction with other treatments, and sometimes even as an alternative to drug-centred approaches.
Read the full report at The Wildlife Trusts.
Main image: Mindful gardening is a relaxing pastime. © Matthew Roberts