Seven projects will receive a share of £5.77m to research how nature can be used to improve mental health and wellbeing.
The new test and learn sites, which are based across England, will focus on communities hardest hit by coronavirus. This could include those living in deprived areas, people with mental health conditions or BAME communities.
The coronavirus pandemic has raised public awareness of the benefits of regular access to green spaces and studies have shown this has the potential to improve mental health and wellbeing. These sites will each explore and bring together opportunities for communities to get involved in their natural environment. This could include activities such as walking, cycling, community gardening and food-growing projects, and practical conservation tasks such as tree planting. For people who need help to get involved this could include supported visits to local green spaces, waterways and the coast, and other outdoor activities to reduce isolation and loneliness. It is believed this initiative will benefit thousands of people across the country, including people in urban, rural and coastal areas.
The projects will be managed by NHS England and NHS Improvement with support from Defra, Department of Health and Social Care, Natural England, Public Health England, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) and Sport England.
The successful projects are:
• Humber Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership
• South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System
• Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System
• Joined Up Care Derbyshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership
• Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership
• Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership
• Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership.
This work will support the Green Social Prescribing programme, which is the practice of supporting patients to engage in nature-based activities. The test and learn sites will run for over two years and if successful, the initiative could be rolled out across the country.
Announcing the seven sites, Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “Many of us have seen first-hand during this difficult time the benefit that connecting with nature can have on our health and mental wellbeing, and I am delighted to announce the first sites for this inspiring scheme which will improve people’s access to and engagement with nature and green spaces.”
Evidence from Natural England shows that almost half the population say that they are spending more time outside than before the pandemic, while the majority of adults surveyed by Forest Research agreed that their level of happiness when in nature has increased. However, the outbreak also has exacerbated health inequalities and levels of mental ill health whilst also highlighting the inequalities of access to green spaces.
Chief Executive of Natural England, Marian Spain, says: “Natural England’s evidence has made clear that nature is good for our health. For many years we’ve been working closely with our health professional colleagues to make sure we can create a healthy society, which is even more important as part of a green recovery to help everybody cope with the long-term impacts of the restrictions on day-to-day life necessitated by the coronavirus.
“I’m delighted that Natural England has been able to shape this innovative partnership to consolidate green social prescribing as a core part of the government’s wider ambitions for health care and health prevention within the NHS. A much -needed increase of the use of green social prescribing services will improve the nation’s mental health, reduce demand on our health system and - crucially – reduce the stark inequalities in access to nature, which have been bought into sharp focus during the pandemic.”