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Improving mental health at nature reserves is excellent value for money

Prescribing contact with nature for people who have low levels of mental health is excellent value for money by improving people’s wellbeing.

Picture of volunteer clearing shrubs at a nature reserve

Researchers at Leeds Beckett University analysed the social value of Wildlife Trusts’ nature conservation projects which offer outdoor volunteering opportunities and programmes that support people experiencing problems such as anxiety, stress or mild depression.

The report draws on the conclusions of three years research which found that people participating in both sorts of outdoor nature conservation activities felt significantly better, both emotionally and physically, as a result. They needed, for example, fewer visits to GPs or felt more able to get back into work.

Professor Anne-Marie Bagnall, from Leeds Beckett University’s School of Health & Community Studies said: “Our analysis of the impacts on people taking part in Wildlife Trusts’ nature conservation activities shows an excellent social return on investment for people with all levels of wellbeing.

“We can therefore say with confidence that, based on evidence from independent research, these programmes can be effective in both maintaining good wellbeing and tackling poor wellbeing arising from social issues such as loneliness, inactivity and poor mental health.

“The significant return on investment of conservation activities in nature means that they should be encouraged as part of psychological wellbeing interventions.”

The new report – Social return on investment analysis of the health and wellbeing impacts of Wildlife Trust programmes – calculates the social return on investment for every £1 invested in the two types of Wildlife Trust projects and found that they are excellent value:

• For every £1 invested in regular nature volunteering projects which play a part in creating a healthy lifestyle by tackling problems like physical inactivity or loneliness, there is an £8.50 social return.

• For every £1 invested in specialised health or social needs projects which connect people to nature and cost more to run, there is a £6.88 social return.

Dom Higgins, Nature and Wellbeing Manager, The Wildlife Trusts said: “Evidence shows that nature volunteering or taking part in a more specialised health and nature project really works. People who have low levels of wellbeing feel healthier and happier when they’re connected to wildlife and wild places.

“We want to see the concept of nature on prescription becoming a core part of the National Health Service (NHS) mental wellbeing programmes. 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 wellbeing.

“In addition, we need many more wild, natural places near to where people live and work – that way, green prescribing can be rolled-out everywhere. This would help the NHS save money – as well as help nature to recover.”

The Leeds Beckett University research demonstrates the value of projects such as Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s MyPlace which specialises in eco-therapy. Run in partnership with Lancashire Care NHS Foundation, it is celebrating its 1000th NHS participant with a special event on World Mental Health Day, Thursday 10 October. MyPlace works in green spaces to support young people and adults to reduce stress, anxiety and many low-level mental health conditions – thus improving health, wellbeing and fitness.

Dr Amir Khan, GP and Health Ambassador for The Wildlife Trusts said: “There is a clear need to invest in nature-based services so that more people can benefit.

“If more people could access nature programmes I believe that we would see a knock-on effect in our GP surgeries, with fewer people attending for help with preventable or social problems arising from being cut off from others, not getting active or having a purpose.”

Picture copyright: Matthew Roberts

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