Evidence is increasing which suggests that trees, woodlands and natural spaces play an important role in improving people’s health and well-being.
In three seminars organised by Forest Research in 2002 forestry, environmental and health professionals came together to explore these issues.
The main benefits of using woodlands and natural spaces identified were:
- Mental and emotional
- Contact with nature
- Reduction of stress levels by being in a pleasant environment
- Stimulation of the senses
- Getting out into woodlands with family and friends
- Meeting new people
- A space for community action and participation
- Build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
- Reduce blood pressure
- Prevent obesity
Woodlands are also a location for community action, a meeting place and venue that can form an important aspect of local identity. Forests provide a haven to escape to from stress. Our senses relax and are infused with fresh energy when we view and experience natural landscapes which include trees and other vegetation.
Four workshops were held at each seminar exploring policy, practice, research and promotion. Some of the key issues raised in each workshop are outlined below.
Take health into account in any policies affecting places where people live and the associated natural spaces, possibly through Health Impact Assessments.
- Encourage integrated partnerships that bring together physical, mental and social health
- Consider establishing a lead agency to integrate with or link the many policies and plans concerned with public health and the environment
- Establish inclusive policies that make it easier for excluded groups to get involved
- Engage with local communities in developing local access policies
- Integrate green space with living space through spatial planning.
- Encourage healthy walking schemes
- Increase the sense of security experienced in accessible space, through wardening, physical design and CCTV where required (e.g. in car parks)
- Establish major regional demonstration projects to promote health through environmental access, to include provision for monitoring and evaluation
- Identify woodlands locally accessible to schools and involve schools in using them.
- Include an element for monitoring and evaluation in project proposals
- Include provision for dissemination of the results in any research funding
- Co-ordinate research projects and provide baseline data of previous research
- Generate community empowerment by involving communities in participatory research
- Carry out research on currently excluded groups: Why are they excluded? How can they be included?
- Effectively use both qualitative and quantitative indicators to assess health and well-being, show progress and build a much needed evidence base.
- Ensure high-quality management of accessible areas, to include welcoming design and well-maintained signage
- Improve public information on accessible green space
- Promote and organise health activities appropriate to different sections of the population: to be undertaken by forest health workers
- Ensure any lead agency would effectively promote uses of woodlands for health and well-being through, for example, the arts and schools
- Choose a variety of messages — promoting an upbeat message focusing solely on health may discourage some people.
- Trees and woodlands: Nature's health service
Information and evidence supporting the use and enjoyment of woodlands and green spaces to improve people’s overall health and well-being. (PDF - 2825K)
- The importance of trees and woods for people's health and well-being
Outlines of publications and project reports (PDF - 738K)
- Strengthening heart and mind”: using woodlands to improve mental and physical well-being
In the United Kingdom, a number of efforts to improve people’s health and well-being focus on the value of trees and woodlands. (Article from Unasylva - Issue 224, Volume 57, 2006/2 - Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations).
- Health and well-being: Trees, Woodlands and Natural Spaces (PDF - 6483K)
This publication was produced from the seminars held in Dumfries, London, Cardiff. In the publication foreword Dr Ruth Hall, the Chief Medial Officer for Wales, highlights some of the key themes emerging from the seminars: a recognition of the role that leisure environment can play in promoting health and well-being, an emphasis on the importance of social inclusion and community engagement and an affirmation of the need for organisations to work in partnership.