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The woodlands of Wales are more than just pretty places to walk in and enjoy – they can be life-savers as well!
That was the message delivered by Forestry Commission Wales at a recent seminar for health professionals at Neath Port Talbot Hospital, Aberafan.
Woodlands for People Policy & Programme Manager Barbara Anglezarke told the audience of doctors, local GPs and consultants that an increase in the number of people enjoying woodlands could result both in improved health and savings to the NHS.
Barbara explained that research by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has estimated that, if everyone in the UK had easy access to green space, there would be savings of £2.1 billion to the NHS every year.
"The forests and woodlands of Wales have so much to offer," she told delegates at the seminar.
"We know that a walk in the woods can be a real stress-buster and can help prevent heart disease, strokes and cancer, too.
"And, where there are welcoming open areas, people are 24% more likely to be physically active."
Almost half the adults in Wales are overweight and mortality rates and cancer registrations are among the worst in Western Europe. Only 29% of adults in Wales are active at the recommended levels and many more people have a long-term limiting illness here than in England – the highest levels of such illness are in the South Wales valleys.
Barbara said, "Even small increases in physical activity can have a big beneficial effect when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes and stress.
"For example, walking between 6-12 miles per week can reduce the risk of premature death by up to 30%."
Forestry Commission Wales looks after 126,000 hectares of Welsh Assembly Government estate including visitor centres, waymarked paths, bridleways and mountain biking trials.
Barbara highlighted how these facilities offer opportunities for people of all abilities and ages to get out and about and enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of woodlands and trees.
"Our work is guided by the Welsh Assembly Government’s Woodlands for Wales strategy and we are improving physical access to woodlands and offering a safe and welcoming environment in order to deliver the strategy’s health and wellbeing outcomes," she told the seminar.
"We are keen to work with partners to develop programmes to target health inequalities in the areas of greatest need.
"Meeting health professionals at events such as this seminar is a great opportunity to start making connections with potential partners."
Barbara co-presented at the seminar with Anne-Marie Beresford Webb, Health and Recreation Policy Officer from the Countryside Council for Wales.
Anne-Marie said, "The natural environment has so much to offer with regards to health and wellbeing benefits.
"Research has highlighted the importance of exposure to green space and nature within recovery, as well as in health promoting activity – the natural environment is a great motivator for people to become active.
"The Countryside Council for Wales is working closely with partners such as Forestry Commission Wales to further develop the evidence base, as well as improving access for outdoor recreation, advising and supporting policy, and developing projects and schemes that aim to improve the health of the people of Wales."
The seminar at Neath Port Talbot Hospital was part of the programme of postgraduate events attended by doctors and health staff as part of their continuous professional development. These are normally about disease management, and the presentation by Forestry Commission Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales was the first one given by an environmental organisation.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. About 14% of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government. Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf. Forestry Commission Wales provides advice on forestry policy to the Minister responsible for forestry. It provides grant aid to the private sector and regulates forestry by issuing felling licences. Forestry Commission Wales is also part of Forestry Commission GB and contributes to the international forestry agenda.
2. Forestry Commission Wales’s work is guided by Woodlands for Wales – the Welsh Assembly Government’s 50 year strategy for woodlands and trees in Wales that was launched in March 2009.
3. Woodlands for People is a key theme in this strategy, two of the outcomes of which are "more communities benefit from woodlands and trees" and "more people live healthier lives as a result of their use and enjoyment of woodlands".
4. Actions from the Welsh Assembly Government’s Policy Position on Health & Wellbeing Benefits of woodlands and trees are:
- Improving physical access to woodlands where people live - identifying spatial priorities
- Safe, welcoming, involving local communities, good woodland management
- Welcoming and catering for diversity - black & minority ethnic groups, low income groups
- Partnership working at all levels
- Children - fun through learning and play
- Urban trees - air quality, shade, well-being
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales
Press office contact: Mary Galliers, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0300 068 0057.