Nature is good medicine: international call to action on the benefits of nature to health and wellbeing

22 Dec 2021
View of trees in autumn

A University of Winchester expert on how access to green spaces contributes to enhancing public and environmental health has joined an international call to action to recognise the irreplaceable potential of nature-derived health services to individuals and to society.

Professor Denise Hewlett is co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) Health and Wellbeing Specialist Group. The Specialist Group is also co-chaired by Jo Hopkins, National and International Engagement Manager, Parks Victoria, Australia.

The Specialist Group is calling on governments around the world to actively promote and support partnerships with the health sector and other key organisations and agencies to make access to nature and its benefits available to everyone.

Jo Hopkins said: "Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on the lives and health of people around the world. In particular, it has strengthened the fundamental link between human health and nature, leading to greater demand than ever for opportunities to access green spaces and forge a connection to nature.

"Now, the benefits of green spaces and the natural environment for human health and wellbeing is becoming better recognised and the way forward is to work with leaders and change-makers to develop new policies and partnerships across health and environment sectors to ensure we can all access the benefits of nature."

Professor Hewlett, Director of the University of Winchester's PeopleScapes Research Centre, said: "Places matter to people and people's relationships with place are now understood to be hugely important in boosting physical, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing and overall quality of life. Simply put, nature is good medicine.

"This powerful call to action aims to develop partnerships and cross sector policy frameworks, share knowledge and raise awareness of the countless benefits of positive engagement with nature."

The Specialist Group calls for 11 actions to be undertaken, including:

  • Providing more equitable and inclusive access to protected and conserved areas to tackle health inequalities
  • Integrating nature-based solutions into preventative, treatment and recovery programmes and existing and emerging health practices, and
  • Mainstreaming opportunities for positive health and wellbeing through connection with nature.

Back gardens at home, parks and green spaces in towns and cities and more remote countryside and coastal locations all offer individuals opportunities to access and connect with nature. Routine enjoyment of public green spaces and targeted therapeutic practices and health interventions - such as walking groups and park runs - can all contribute to participants' health and wellbeing.

Visit the IUCN Health and Wellbeing website for more information.

Professor Hewlett is a co-author of the international GreenCOVID study, which assessed the impact of lockdown measures on people's wellbeing and mental health in England, Ireland and Spain between March and July 2020. She is also an active member of the IUCN's Taskforce on Covid-19 and Protected Areas.

IUCN is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations and acts as a global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

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