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Why is nature important for health?

People are intuitively connected to nature. As a species, we have spent most of our existence much closer to nature than we do in the present day. The pressures of modern life can mean that we spend much of our time indoors and for many, this impacts our health and sense of wellbeing. Our modern lives are characterised by rising rates of obesity and overweight, mental illness, and a higher proportion of older people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, lung illnesses or heart disease.

There is substantial and increasing evidence demonstrating a connection between improving access to nature and improving people’s health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that being in nature or a greenspace improves physical health and results in a better quality of and a longer life [Mitchell and Popham]. In addition to this, access to nature is linked with improvements in self-reported or carer-reported wellbeing by children, young people, and adults.

Improving access to greenspace: 2020 review

Typically, the most deprived people live in neighbourhoods with the least opportunity to access greenspace, and by extension, nature. These people are also more likely to have poorer mental and physical health.

Figure 2: Incidence rate ratios (with 95% confidence intervals) for all-cause mortality in income deprivation quartiles 2-4, relative to income deprivation quartile 1 (least deprived), stratified by green space exposure group

Mitchell, R. and Popham, F. (2008) Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study. The Lancet 372(9650):pp. 1655-1660.

Targeting these people and improving their access to nature and green space demonstrated an even greater reduction in deaths, than amongst the least deprived people in society i.e. it’s good for everyone to improve their access to nature, but it has a bigger impact on those with lower income. You can see this on the above bar graph, where the reduction in the light grey bar is greater than the reduction in dark grey or black bars as you increase greenspace exposure. As a link worker, health coach or allied professional, you are in a unique position to identify and ensure that green space access is provided for those who most need it. It is everyone’s business to get people into – and engaging with – nature, and the New Forest and surrounding area is an incredible area to enable this.

There is a wealth of anecdotal reporting of the benefits of a shared experience in nature, of a deeper connection with peers/carers/teachers/family members and of the indirect benefits of helping the ‘health’ of a local community.

Green ‘social prescribing’

Social prescribing is a rapidly developing idea in healthcare provision. It seeks to approach health and wellbeing in a holistic way, considering all the surrounding factors in a person’s life and not just trying to address a physical or mental health problem in isolation. This is challenging in the existing ‘traditional’ healthcare systems, and service pressures have made such holistic approaches even more challenging. This is why a ‘link worker/social prescriber/health coach’ role has been conceived. They are able to advocate for a person’s broader needs and organise tailored programmes for them to enhance their sense of wellbeing.

Green social prescribing extends the remit of social prescribing, linking people to nature-based activities such as health walks, cycling, community gardening, and sometimes activities that could be done indoors, such as yoga or meditation. The government are in the process of piloting this form of social prescribing and more information can be found on the NHS site here:

It is also important to acknowledge for some people, calling these kinds of activities ‘social prescribing’ can be a real ‘turn-off’, as it can be perceived to over-medicalise. It is important as a link worker, GP or even a green space/activity provider to individualise the experience and discussion with any person for whom you are considering an activity or intervention.

So what is available?

The New Forest is a beautiful place, and full of opportunity. There are many existing offers that are detailed on the Green Health Hub and complement the move towards ‘social prescribing’.

How can existing health service providers play their part?

A quote from NHS England regarding social prescribing says:

‘When social prescribing works well, people can be easily referred to link workers from a wide range of local agencies, including general practice, pharmacies, multi-disciplinary teams, hospital discharge teams, allied health professionals, fire service, police, job centres, social care services, housing associations and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations. Self-referral is also encouraged’

In essence, it requires empowered healthcare staff who understand the local process of making referrals.

Together, we can promote the role that the New Forest and nature in the surrounding area, can play in improving the health and wellbeing of both the individuals that benefit and the broader population and community as a whole.

What next?

We want people to continue to explore the New Forest and nature. There are many opportunities available that we hope will then empower people to access nature with greater autonomy. Explore this site and get in touch to find out more. If you have an offer that you would like to add to the site, please contact us.