This week we’re celebrating Green Health Week. In this guest blog by Bridget Finton, Policy and Advice Officer at NatureScot, we take a look at what green health is, why it’s so important and what we’re doing to encourage it.

Scotland’s great outdoors is outstanding - and provides a wealth of amazing places for physical activity and connecting with nature - all of which we know can help improve our physical, mental and social health and wellbeing.

With continued pressure on public sector resources, encouraging more engagement in ‘green health’ activities such as walking, cycling, volunteering, play and learning, gardening and active travel can also raise awareness of sustainability issues around climate change and biodiversity loss.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated as never before how important regular access to the natural environment is for everyone, with both active and passive engagement providing benefits for health and wellbeing. Research by NatureScot during August and September 2021 found that 73% of people felt that spending time outdoors in nature helped them to de-stress, relax and unwind; and 63% agreed that it improved their physical health. 48% stated that they expected to visit the outdoors more often in future than before the first lockdown.

Image caption Image of a man on a mobility vehicle using urban greenspace
Image of a man on a mobility vehicle using urban greenspace

NatureScot, with partners including Public Health Scotland, Scottish Government and Transport Scotland, as well as national and area health boards and a range of voluntary sector partners, is working to show how greater use of the outdoors can help to tackle some of our big health challenges like physical inactivity and mental ill health.

The Our Natural Health Service (ONHS) programme is a joined-up approach working to realise the potential of the outdoors to contribute to public health priorities around place, physical activity and mental health. It comprises two key elements:

Green Health Partnerships

Four pilot Green Health Partnerships (GHPs) have been established in Lanarkshire, North Ayrshire, Dundee and Highland. Led by area health boards and local authorities, GHPs bring together health, environment, leisure services, transport, education, sport, academia, local communities and the voluntary sector to show how the outdoors can support local healthcare priorities. Local green health information resources have been collated, awareness-raising across health & social care and the public encourages take-up, and better ways to connect people to supportive local green health opportunities are being developed. This includes links to social prescribing programmes.

NHS Greenspace Demonstration Project

The NHS Greenspace Demonstration Project has also helped achieve closer working between the health and environment sectors. The project was established in 2013 to show how local NHS Board improvements to outdoor spaces around existing and new hospitals and health centres can contribute to health and wellbeing, biodiversity and climate change outcomes. Greenspace interventions including tree planting and woodland management, wildflower meadow creation, revised grass-cutting regimes and wetland management, improved access provision to encourage walking and cycling, and community gardens have increased use of the NHS Estate. During the COVID-19 pandemic, awareness rose of the value of hospital greenspace to NHS staff for stress relief and solace. This has given new impetus for work to improve provision and quality of NHS greenspace as a health-promoting resource for staff, patients and local community.

Image caption New Craigs Hospital dementia garden, Inverness
Newcraigs Hospital Dementia Garden

Bringing cross-sectoral partners together under the ONHS banner has helped to influence both working practices and policy. In the NHS Scotland draft Climate Emergency and Sustainability Strategy, the role of the natural environment in tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and public health issues features strongly, with both Green Health Partnerships and NHS greenspace given prominence. The Green Health approach is supported by the CMO as a contribution to the prevention, treatment and care of ill-health, and has synergy with a range of government policy including social prescribing and active travel.

The outdoors and green health are not remedies for all our nation’s health issues, but they can play a valuable role in, and be part of, achieving a healthier Scotland.

Last updated: 13 June 2022