Ensuring the value of nature to public health and wellbeing is recognised and valued within the wider health sector.
Studies have shown that spending time in the natural environment is linked to positive mental health outcomes, as well as helping alleviate stress, mood disorders and benefit psycho-social wellbeing (Natural England 2022). Evidence also shows that at a population level increased exposure to natural environments is also associated with benefits for physical health and wellbeing, including lower rates of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Unfortunately, despite the rural nature of Lincolnshire it is the second worse area for access to nature (Natural England, 2019), something that needs to be improved by raising awareness and overcoming barriers.
Part of the solution is through greater provision of accessible natural space; however, it is also important that people are aware of what space there already is. Green social prescribing is intended to promote healthy lifestyles and, in some cases, complement contemporary treatments and therapies by signposting people towards opportunities to engage with nature. There are currently a number of initiatives in Greater Lincolnshire exploring the potential for green social prescribing set within a wider social prescribing framework.
Beyond access to specific greenspaces, greener neighbourhoods, making effective use of green and blue infrastructure, are also recognised as having benefits for people’s health and wellbeing. For example, vegetation within urban areas has a key role in reducing high temperatures which can have an impact on health, especially over the summer. Equally, green infrastructure in urban areas contributes to improved air quality reducing potential for pollution related conditions such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases.
The GLNP work closely with stakeholders in the health sector to promote and develop green social prescribing within Greater Lincolnshire. The hope is that nature-based interventions will become commonplace within social prescribing in general, ensuring opportunities to engage with nature are available for all of those that need it.
The GLNP also works closely with Local Planning Authorities to ensure the value of green and blue infrastructure is recognised in local planning policy as well as working with local groups, such as the Sincil Bank Community Partnership, supporting them in greening their neighbourhoods.
Evidence alone does not lead to change, there is a need to ensure this evidence is more widely known and understood so both health and environmental sectors can make best use of it.
Currently environmental and social care charities appear to be leading the way in implementation. Broadening this to enable wider action through health charities, the public health sector and health commissioning is key to enabling much more to be effectively accomplished.
Awareness is not the only hurdle. The variability in the natural environment and human responses to it has made quantification and direct proof of the benefits, in a way that health professionals are familiar with, difficult. Ensuring that monitoring schemes for projects are able to consider this from the outset is important if wide scale changes are to be achieved.
Many health and wellbeing projects involve managing nature reserves or green spaces. While the benefit to these sites will be clear to those working on these projects, there is currently not enough reported evidence of this benefit to meet statistical standards.
More widely, health and wellbeing engagement may help nature in the longer term as it has been demonstrated that engagement with nature leads to care for nature, this is especially true in children. Nature needs people to care for it and champion it if it is to be protected into the future.