A report published today reveals that prescribing contact with nature for people who have low levels of mental wellbeing provides excellent value for money by improving people’s health and wellbeing.

Researchers at Leeds Beckett University analysed the social value of Wildlife Trusts’ nature conservation projects, which offer outdoor volunteering opportunities and programmes that support people experiencing problems such as anxiety, stress or mild depression.

The report draws on the conclusions of three years’ research, which found that people participating in outdoor nature conservation activities felt significantly better, both emotionally and physically, as a result. They needed, for example, fewer visits to GPs or felt more able to get back into work.*

The new report – Social return on investment analysis of the health and wellbeing impacts of Wildlife Trust programmes** – calculates the social return on investment for every £1 invested in the two types of Wildlife Trust projects and found that they provide excellent value:

  • For every £1 invested in regular nature volunteering projects,which play a part in creating a healthy lifestyle by tackling problems like physical inactivity or loneliness, there is an £8.50 social return.
  • For every £1 invested in specialised health or social needs projects, which connect people to nature and cost more to run, there is a £6.88 social return.

The Leeds Beckett University research demonstrates the value of projects such as Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s MyPlace, which specialises in eco-therapy. Run in partnership with Lancashire Care NHS Foundation, it is celebrating its 1,000th NHS participant with a special event on World Mental Health Day, Thursday 10th October. MyPlace works in green spaces to support young people and adults to reduce stress, anxiety and many low-level mental health conditions – thus improving health, wellbeing and fitness.

Dr Amir Khan, GP and Health Ambassador for The Wildlife Trusts says: “There is a clear need to invest in nature-based services so that more people can benefit. 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.”

For Simon, coming to MyPlace for help with problems including depression and social anxiety was life changing. He now shares his positive experiences with others by volunteering with the project.

“Before coming to MyPlace, I would close myself off from the world,” he says. “They offered me encouragement, support and how to expand my social skills. MyPlace has made my transition back into life far easier and helped my confidence and self-esteem. I thought my life was going to go one of three ways, I was either going to end up in a hospital, in a prison cell or on a slab. I did not imagine that I would be here, being able to offer what I do today.”

Dom Higgins, Nature and Wellbeing Manager, The Wildlife Trusts, says: “Evidence shows that nature volunteering or taking part in a more specialised health and nature project really works. People who have low levels of wellbeing feel healthier and happier when they’re connected to wildlife and wild places.

“We want to see the concept of nature on prescription becoming a core part of the National Health Service (NHS) mental wellbeing 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 & Wellbeing Evidence, Director of the Centre for Health Promotion Research, Leeds Beckett University, says: “Our analysis of the impacts on people taking part in Wildlife Trusts’ nature conservation activities shows an excellent social return on investment for people with all levels of wellbeing.

“We can therefore say with confidence that, based on evidence from independent research, these programmes can be effective in both maintaining good wellbeing and tackling poor wellbeing arising from social issues such as loneliness, inactivity and poor mental health.  The significant return on investment of conservation activities in nature means that they should be encouraged as part of psychological wellbeing interventions.”

*A Natural Health Service – prescribing nature works – and is excellent value for money. A summary of research carried out by University of Essex and Leeds Beckett University for The Wildlife Trusts. Summary

**Social return on investment analysis of the health and wellbeing impacts of Wildlife Trust programmes, by Leeds Beckett University (The Centre for Health Promotion Research) 2019. Report

The Wildlife Trusts wildlifetrusts.org

More information about health and wellbeing work here. There are 46 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. It has more than 850,000 members, 35,000 volunteers, and more than 2,300 nature reserves. Its vision is to create a Living Landscape and secure Living Seas.