Expert Opinion

The contribution of green spaces to health and wellbeing

In this blog post Jenny Woodward, Research Fellow, Centre for Health Promotion Research and Dr Eric Brymer, Reader in the Carnegie School of Sport, reflect on a recent conference which discussed the contribution of green spaces to health and wellbeing.

Green space has long been appreciated for its beauty, its contribution to biodiversity and for how it makes people feel. Translating this innate knowledge into more tangible, measurable evidence has attracted much scientific attention over the last twenty years. Now, a body of evidence exists that demonstrates people’s health and wellbeing benefits from seeing, living in, playing in, or being physically active in green space. Coming from disciplines as diverse as ecology, architecture, sports science, psychology and epidemiology, the multi-disciplinary nature of the evidence is both a strength and a challenge for researchers and commissioners, more used to working in particular fields, or aspects of human health.

A conference, jointly hosted by Leeds Beckett University (Schools of Sport and Health & Community Studies) and Your BackYard on June 12th, brought together academics and practitioners from across Yorkshire & Humber to discuss the ‘Contribution of Green Spaces to Health and Wellbeing’. The aims of this conference were;

  • To gain a better understanding of the existing evidence and determine where there might be important gaps,
  • To discuss how projects that use or improve green space can generate their own evidence of impact on health and wellbeing to influence decision makers and commissioners.

Seventy people attended, including from nine local authorities in Yorkshire and Lancashire, some from public health or Health and Wellbeing boards, others from parks or landscape teams.  The voluntary and community sector was well represented with delegates from charities who utilised volunteers to improve green spaces and organisations that used green space to improve mental health. Academics from sport, sustainability, nutrition and health also attended.

The mix of disciplines and sectors proved a great success, with many eager to work together in the future;

“Today has been the most vibrant day I’ve been to for a long, long time, something special is happening here I think … and it doesn’t happen all the time... Part of this is bringing together academics and practitioners … people coming together from a hub of interest and coming from completely different perspectives and it is really, really vibrant.”

Expert Talks

Six experts, from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, gave short talks.  All the slides, with accompanying audio, can be viewed here.

Dr Eric Brymer’s wide ranging and thought provoking talk “Reflecting on the human-nature wellbeing relationship” started the day. In just 15 minutes Eric, from the School of Sport at Leeds Beckett University, summarised the existing evidence, identified current challenges and what nuances still need exploring.

Bruce Howard, from the Ecosystems Knowledge Network, presented the “Economic case for using the natural outdoors for health benefit”, commenting on the need to refine the economic arguments for investing in green space initiatives, posing the idea that environmental organisations are already part of the health system.


Alexandra Long, from the Playwork team in the School of Health, drew on her research in two contrasting Welsh communities to give an inspirational talk about the importance of children’s play and how it is affected by the physical and cultural environment “We’re all Playing Out and It’s Lovely.”

Shaun Kiddell, Parks Policy Adviser, for the Heritage Lottery Fund focused on the organisation’s work to regenerate UK parks “20 years of HLF. Over £800 million. What have we achieved.” Part uplifting, part concerning, he highlighted the challenges the park sector currently faces and the potential opportunities of working with the health sector in the future.

Nicola Corrigon, from Public Health England, left the audience in no doubt as to the importance of green space for the population’s health and wellbeing (36,815 deaths p.a. could be avoided through increased physical activity facilitated through better designed public space). She highlighted PHE’s agenda for action,  and their ‘Healthy People, Healthy Place’ work “Place, Green Space, Health & Wellbeing”.

Alan Simson’s captivating talk “The Health Benefits of Urban Forests”, focused on trees and their power to improve city life. Drawing from his long experience working in forests across the world the Professor of Urban Forestry at Leeds Beckett University inspired us all to advocate for green space to be appreciated as a serious asset and to lead planning decisions. 

Interactive workshops on evaluation, inequalities, case studies and making the economic case for investment, took place in the afternoon.

What about the future?

There was real enthusiasm for forming a network or forum, in Yorkshire & Humber, that brings people, from different disciplines together. This could help people share ideas and resources or ask for knowledge or help. There was a sense that, only by working together, could the health and wellbeing potential for green space be realised.  

“We can only resource ourselves by sharing our skills and networks so that we can find people and projects that will be mutually supportive”

“We all agree that one of the best things about today is being in a room with so many people with so much knowledge that we struggle to get hold of otherwise”

“You do just need every (so) often to reconnect with everybody – it is good what we do, it is worth the pain, because you know it’s not getting easier. And that is important just occasionally.”

We will endeavour to ensure that a network in Yorkshire and Humber is developed, so, please watch this space! And if you are interested in being part of it, or just finding out more, please contact us.

Our thanks go to the many people who helped make this happen including;

  • Tony Mullin from Your BackYard for coming up with the idea
  • All the speakers
  • The workshop facilitators – including Annie Berrington from Get Out More and Rosie McEachan, Anna Chavez and Hannah Roberts from Born in Bradford
  • Sue Sherwin and Vicki Crossley from the School of Health
  • Sue Backhouse and Claire Griffiths from Carnegie School of Sport
  • Matthew Hobbs from Leeds Trinity University
  • Alex Christensen, Kevin Drew, Windi Lameck, Adele Morrin, Emma Wilkins, Obesity and the Environment PhD students

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