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Trees and woodlands: Nature's health service

Trees and woodlands: Nature's health serviceThis publication provides information and evidence supporting the idea that the use and enjoyment of woodlands and green spaces improves people’s overall health and well-being.

By Liz O'Brien.

Forward by Sir Liam Donaldson - Chief Medical Officer for England.

November 2005.

Trees and woodlands: Nature's health service (PDF-2825K)

Executive summary

Trees and woodlands: nature’s health service is aimed at a wide range of health professionals and environmental professionals: both policymakers and practitioners. It provides information and evidence supporting the idea that the use and enjoyment of woodlands and green spaces improves people’s overall health and well-being. By outlining research and current practical projects it is hoped that this book will bring inspiration and ideas for developing future work and new partnerships.

Key government priorities for health are outlined with suggestions of how organisations such as the Forestry Commission and other countryside agencies can help people to choose healthier lifestyles. The evidence base is established through a review of past and current research describing the ways in which the natural environment can improve people’s health and well-being. Also provided are case studies of some of the projects the Forestry Commission is currently running in partnership with a range of other organisations including primary care trusts. They illustrate important lessons about how the Woodland Sector, in partnership with others, can contribute to the health agenda and where it can target its efforts most effectively.

This publication demonstrates that while there are many well-being benefits that can be experienced from having contact with nature and green space in general, trees and woodlands specifically have a number of advantages as places with particular meaning and spaces where a range of activities and events can take place:

  • Woodlands are restorative environments: the sounds, sights and smells experienced in a wood play a role in reducing stress by providing interest and stimulation of the senses.
  • Woodlands, and in particular individual trees, often hold specific meaning for people; they are seen as representing nature, particularly in the urban environment. The age of veteran trees often inspires awe in people and provides a link between the past, present and  future.
  • Trees and woodlands are part of a rich narrative of stories, legends and myths dating back thousands of years.
  • Woodlands can screen out noise, for example, from nearby traffic.
  • Many woodlands have the ability ‘to absorb’ large numbers of people without seeming crowded.
  • Woodlands offer a range of options for various types of activities from gentle to vigorous, including walking, cycling, horse-riding, nature trails, picnics, den building and mountain biking.
  • Carrying out physical activity in an attractive environment such as a woodland may encourage people to maintain their activities in the long term.
  • Woodlands are inexpensive places to visit: an important factor when considering health inequalities and social inclusion.