People experiencing problems, such as anxiety, stress and depression, reported feeling significantly better, both emotionally and physically, after taking part in outdoor nature conservation projects, according to research by Leeds Beckett University.
In a summary of the research, which was also carried out for The Wildlife Trusts said: “Prescribing nature works – and saves money. A natural, community-based approach to health offers an important non-medical service that will deliver health prevention at scale and reduce the current burden on the NHS.”
The report – Social return on investment analysis of the health and wellbeing impacts of Wildlife Trust programmes – found for every £1 invested in specialised health or social needs projects that connect people to nature, there is a £6.88 social return.
It also calculated there is an £8.50 social return for every £1 invested in regular nature volunteering projects, which help create healthy lifestyles by tackling problems such as physical inactivity or loneliness.
The nature prescriptions include activities like carrying out habitat protection or clearing a pond.
Dom Higgins, nature and wellbeing manager at The Wildlife Trusts told The Independent: “The study is a way to analyse the value for money of projects that have multiple benefits.
“There are case stories of people who were cut off from the world but then they end up being economically active and then they become tax contributors. Undeniably there are fewer GP appointments so there’s a cost attached to that,” he said.
The study found 95 per cent of people who started out with low mental well-being improved in six weeks after working in nature for five to six hours each week.
The report has led to calls for more investment so that nature-based services can become more widespread.
Mr Higgins said: “We want to see the concept of nature on prescription becoming a core part of the NHS mental well-being 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.”
Anne-Marie Bagnall, professor of health and wellbeing evidence at Leeds Beckett University, said: “The significant return on investment of conservation activities in nature means that they should be encouraged as part of psychological wellbeing interventions.”
Dr Amir Khan, a GP and health ambassador for The Wildlife Trusts said there is a clear need to invest in nature-based services.
He said: “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.”
Additional reporting by PA
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