Putting nature into healthcare: healthy communities and a healthy environment… #actfornature

Healthcare is rarely out of the news these days, as the NHS struggles under the growing pressures. In the fourth of our themed blogs Simon Phelps, the Your Wild Life Project Officer, explains how Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is helping to relieve the burden on our healthcare system and encourage people to live healthier lives.

Healthcare is the topic of the moment right now, with the NHS rarely out of the weekly news bulletins. As we approach the general election, lines are being drawn by all the political parties around how they will strengthen the NHS, to help it cope with the demands being placed on it by an increasingly unhealthy society. The signs are there: high waiting times in A&E, GP’s surgeries with full patient lists, a shortage of nurses and doctors, an ageing population, an increasing burden of mental health problems within the population, rising levels of obesity and decreasing levels of physical activity. There are calls for reform within healthcare, for us to look to new and novel approaches to tackle the ever growing burden it places on society.

Volunteers getting stuck into the Your Wild Life project - copyright Amy Lewis
Volunteers getting stuck into the Your Wild Life project – copyright Amy Lewis

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust are at the forefront of pioneering one such novel approach, using nature and outdoor spaces to encourage people to live a healthier and more active lifestyle. There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the positive impact that exposure to the outdoors has on your physical and mental health. Studies have shown that spending more time being active outdoors is important in: reducing anxiety and depression, tackling loneliness, promoting higher levels of physical activity, reducing stress, reduced risk of suffering from conditions associated with physical inactivity (e.g. heart related). The strength of an outdoor based approach as a health intervention measure has been recognised in Warwickshire by the Solihull Council’s public health team who, in December 2013, commissioned the Trust to deliver the Your Wild Life project.

Volunteers getting stuck into the Your Wild Life project - copyright Amy Lewis
Volunteers getting stuck into the Your Wild Life project – copyright Amy Lewis
Image copyright Amy Lewis
Image copyright Amy Lewis

The Your Wild Life project is a project that aims to use green spaces to promote positive changes in people’s physical and mental health. Running sessions in parks, community gardens and local woodlands, the project has used activities such as wildlife gardening, practical habitat management and guided walks to encourage people to get active outdoors. After a year the project had delivered over 100 sessions and worked with 67 people, equating to over 850 hours of volunteer time, worth £6,161! The health benefits matched the economic ones; volunteers mental wellbeing increased by an average of 57% and all reported increasing or maintaining their weekly physical activity levels. 90% of participants reported that they felt fitter and healthier after taking part in the project. These represent serious health benefits to a portion of the population in North Solihull and demonstrate that this outdoor based approach works.

The Bluebell Community Garden, created by volunteers of the Your Wild Life project - copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)
The Bluebell Community Garden, created by volunteers of the Your Wild Life project – copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)
The Bluebell Community Garden, created by volunteers of the Your Wild Life project - copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)
The Bluebell Community Garden, created by volunteers of the Your Wild Life project – copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)
Seating area, created by volunteers of the Your Wild Life project - copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)
Seating area, created by volunteers of the Your Wild Life project – copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)

However these statistics only tell half the story, many of the volunteers have gone on personal journeys and reconnected with the natural world. Craig, who has given an amazing 131 hours of his time, saw his mental wellbeing increase by an incredible 191% and has this to say about the Your Wild Life project:

“I feel relaxed and happy outdoors, all my worries just go because you’re not thinking about things. I enjoy meeting new people and getting out of the house. I also enjoy making a change to the environment. It has made a big difference to my health as I go out more.”

Craig experiencing the positive effects of the outdoors - copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)
Craig experiencing the positive effects of the outdoors – copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)

The success of the Your Wild Life project has been replicated on other health funded initiatives that Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has delivered. Our Green Minds project spent last summer providing nature based activities in green spaces in and around Coventry specifically for carers of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The public health department of the Coventry City Council also funded the Trust to work with children, encouraging them to explore and play in their local green spaces.

Wildlife pond, created by volunteers of the Your Wild Life project - copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)
Wildlife pond, created by volunteers of the Your Wild Life project – copyright Simon Phelps (WWT)

Health related projects are a rapidly growing area of our work, which is also being replicated nationally, with many other Wildlife Trusts carrying out similar projects. There is recognition within the healthcare sector that the work we do is providing a much needed healthcare service, and acts as another tool to encouraging people to get active. It is also refreshing to see one of nature’s traditionally intangible benefits, that of being good for your mental health, being recognised and quantified. This lends support to the idea that we all know to be true; nature relaxes you!

Simon

New Trustee to Warwickshire Wildlife Trust Crishni Waring has worked for many years in the healthcare sector, and says that: “As a new Trustee for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust with experience in workplace and mental health provision, I was very excited to hear about the potential benefits of nature-based health interventions. There is a real need for everyone interested in health and wellbeing to look at innovative ways in which to engage people in healthy activities and I think these are excellent examples of the unique opportunities that Wildlife Trusts can offer.”

If you’ve been inspired by Simon’s work then please cast your vote for nature by signing The Wildlife Trusts’ e-petition urging MPs to pledge their support for a Nature and Wellbeing Act. Follow the campaign on social media using #actfornature and inspire your friends and family to do their bit for nature too!

Remember to return to this blog next Thursday at 8pm for the next installment in our General Election series. Or click the “Follow” button on the right of this post to follow our blog and receive a notification whenever we post.

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