A nature health network
By Jim Mitchell, Interpretation and Outreach Manager, New Forest National Park Authority
How often do you think about nature in your job? Do you factor in how you can help wildlife and encourage nature, in order to help increase health and wellbeing? The benefits of nature for our mental and physical health have never been clearer since the start of the Covid19 pandemic. Now a diverse group of practitioners, policy makers and communities are coming together and recognising the benefits of connection to nature- both to ourselves and to nature itself. Read on to find out about the work of the ‘nature health network’.
The evidence of being in nature and the outdoors have been growing over decades. In the past few years, it’s become increasingly evident that it is our connection to nature that really matters for our society. This is because it brings benefits for both humans and nature; it is a factor in improved mental wellbeing, increased pro-environmental behaviours and pro-nature conservation behaviours, to name just a few. Researchers at the University of Derby* have developed five ‘Pathways for nature connection’ which set out how best to nurture this ‘nature connectedness’. Our challenge is to design programmes, spaces and places to encourage these pathways- engaging with people’ senses, emotion, meaning, beauty and compassion.
The Nature Health Network was formed in the summer of 2020 by Bournemouth University, Public Health England and the New Forest National Park (on behalf of a group of southern National Park Authorities). Since then the network has grown to over 250 members, and holds a monthly knowledge-share webinar to explore practice and to make connections between those working in the health, environment and education sectors. Members are drawn from the NHS, countryside organisations, communities, academia and much more.
The network provides:
- a platform for practitioners, academics and advocates of nature-based health solutions to showcase approaches to local, regional and national policy makers, decision takers and funders;
- a shared space for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and learning; and
- a seed bed for innovation in nature-based learning and health solutions at the community level, testing approaches and evaluating success.
In March 2021 the network presented to the All Party Parliamentary Group on National Parks, as part of a session on how protected areas can become better ‘healing landscapes’ following the effects on society of the global pandemic.
Although only running since last August, the network has grown quickly and heard for a wide range of speakers. Each month new members get a chance to introduce themselves and their interests, and hear and debate with guest speakers. Speakers have included Dr William Bird of Intelligent Health, Clare Olver from the Mersey Forest Natural Health Service, Dr Ryan Lumbar from the University of Derby and Eva Sandberg from the Swedish Centre for Nature Interpretation.
Examples of activity generated and promoted through the network include:
- Barts healthcare NHS trust, Introduction to nature training for medical students.
- Planet Doctors, supporting/promoting communities to grow their own
- Good Life: supporting the set-up of telephone nature friendship group for older isolated people.
- Supporting the development of Green Social Prescribing for Community Covid Recovery
Layne Hamerston, Partnerships Manager at Bournemouth University, has been central to getting the network off the ground. Layne thinks the success of the network is down to the diversity of its membership, from GPs to rangers, from countryside managers to clinical commissioning groups, from freelancers to social prescribers. ‘It works precisely because of it reflecting both delivery and strategy’, says Layne, ‘people leave with new knowledge and ideas every time, the feedback we have had has been very positive’.
Joining the network is easy- its open to anyone with an interest in making nature connections happen. A new website will soon be launched and international collaboration is also planned for the autumn.