Health benefits of access to natural environments

It is widely recognised that access to green spaces can significantly improve people’s health and wellbeing. Benefits of this access contributes to improved health in many ways including:

  • reduction in stress and depression;
  • increased physical activity which benefits both children and adults leading to a reduction in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, amongst others.

These are evidenced in a report produced by the Forestry Commission in 2002, entitled: Health and well-being: trees, woodlands and natural spaces , amongst others.

The local picture

In the Calderdale Health Profile 2015, 18.9% of children in Year 6 and 26.7% of adults were classified as obese, which has significant implications for their future health. The health profile identified Calderdale priorities to include obesity, air quality and health inequalities which can all be partially addressed by access to quality urban green space and countryside managed by Safer, Cleaner, Greener. In addition to these priorities Calderdale seeks to reduce levels of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Current provision

Safer, Cleaner, Greener manages a wide variety of parks, local nature reserves, local wildlife sites and other green spaces. Many of the services provided by the team have an impact on health. These include:

  1. Countryside volunteering

    Benefits: Improved physical and mental health and reduction in social isolation of participants; supporting Highways delivering maintenance of Rights of Way network allowing public to access walking, cycling, running and horse riding routes and enabling the wider public’s health and wellbeing to improve;

  2. Guided walks and events

    Benefits: Increased level of physical activity which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduces levels of obesity. Improved mental health and wellbeing;

  3. Self-guided walks leaflets

    Benefits: Allows people to walk independently exploring the countryside around Calderdale leading to an increased level of physical activity and benefits to mental wellbeing;

  4. Local Wildlife Sites / Local Nature Reserves

    Benefits: Management and creation of quality green spaces that allow the public to engage with the natural environment with a wide variety of health benefits including increased physical activity, improved mental wellbeing and the subsequent reduction in ill health;

  5. Support for Community Groups

    Benefits: Offering advice, training and guidance to community groups who carry out work to improve the natural environment in Calderdale and give opportunities for group members to become more physically active;

  6. Tree planting and woodland management

    Benefits: Some tree species such as Ash, Maple and Silver Birch improve air quality, in particular the reduction of particulates, which benefits people who have asthma and other respiratory conditions. Trees also have a cooling effect during hot weather which is particularly beneficial for people living in urban areas who have heart conditions, and the provision of shade from sun helps protect people from skin cancer. In addition, tree planting and woodland management lead to an increase in physical activity both for people accessing the woods and for people involved in managing the woods;

  7. Sports pitch management

    Benefits: Increased physical activity and associated health benefits. Particular impact on health of school age children playing rugby and football;

  8. Play areas

    Benefits: Increased physical activity in pre-school and primary age children leading to reduction in childhood obesity;

  9. Outdoor gym equipment

    Benefits: Free access to gym equipment which increases physical activity to everyone, including people on low incomes;

  10. Wildlife club at Ogden Water

    Benefits: Engenders a love and understanding of the countryside which encourages young people to be active in the outdoors, and is likely to encourage members to continue to access the countryside in adulthood;

  11. Camp site

    Benefits: Increased physical activity, lower stress levels and improved wellbeing;

  12. Environmental education

    Benefits: Increased physical activity and associated benefits. Potential to encourage children to visit the countryside for recreation in the future;

  13. School playground maintenance

    Benefits: Increased physical activity leading to lower levels of childhood obesity;

  14. Street trees

    Benefits: Some tree species such as Ash, Maple and Silver Birch improve air quality, in particular the reduction of particulates, which benefits people who have asthma and other respiratory conditions. Trees also have a cooling effect during hot weather which is particularly beneficial for people living in urban areas who have heart conditions, and the provision of shade from sun helps protect people from skin cancer. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that people suffering from illness recover quicker if they have a view with a tree or trees;

  15. Pavement and road sweeping

    Benefits: Removal of detritus lessens the occurrence of slips, trips and falls;

  16. Environment

    Benefits: Research has shown that the quality of the environment that people live in has an impact on their health and wellbeing. The presence of / easy access to high quality and well-maintained green space can assist in improved mental health and quality of life;

  17. Allotments and food growing projects

    Benefits: Quality of access to good quality fresh fruit and veg. Physical activity and social contact. Support for school projects assists in children learning about food production and healthy eating. Support for food growing projects and local allotment associations;

  18. School grounds development

    Benefits: Children benefit from outdoor activities, physical activity, mental health and gain more confidence in how to be in the outdoors. Can incorporate food growing. The school environment is improved;

  19. Partnership working

    Benefits: Working closely with partners in the statutory and voluntary sector such as Yorkshire Water and Natural England increases capacity to deliver health benefits to the people living in Calderdale.

User views

Periodic consultation is carried out on sites to ascertain people’s views on site management and access. Currently consultation is progressing regarding Norland Moor which will give baseline information to help produce a five year management plan for the moor. Consultation also takes place prior to playground refurbishments to ensure play equipment meets the needs of families.

In addition, feedback is encouraged from schools attending led sessions at places such as Ogden Water and Jerusalem Farm which is used to improve educational visits.

The service also has a close working relationship with community groups and other service users eg Cromwell Bottom Wildlife Group.

Unmet needs

Managing parks, local nature reserves, local wildlife sites and other green spaces, and the Rights of Way network is becoming increasingly difficult following cuts to local authority budgets which will inevitably impact on the quality of green spaces and the level to which they are maintained in future years. Maintaining current levels of service delivery will require new ways of working through partnerships and exploring different ways of funding. This could potentially result in elements listed in Current provision being no longer sustainable which could result in unmet needs.

In addition our service is currently short of walk leaders, which is preventing the service from offering as many guided walks as we would like.

Projected future need

The latest ‘Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment’ report from Natural England show that just under 50% of the population of England access green space on a regular basis. This suggests that (assuming Calderdale follows the same pattern) the potential to increase numbers of users is highly likely if resources were made available.

Key considerations linked to the known evidence base (what works?)

Natural England, 2015 : Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment ;

References and further information

References

Further information

For further information, please contact:

  • Username Countryside Services
  • Email countryside@calderdale.gov.uk
  • Telephone 01422 288001
  • Address
    Calderdale Countryside Team
    Spring Hall Mansion
    Huddersfield Road
    Halifax
    HX3 0AQ
Always open first panel: 

Author

Julie Swift, Environmental Education and Interpretation Officer, Neighbourhoods, Calderdale Council (21st January 2016).