This project will address government’s need for greater understanding of how investing in the environment can benefit our health, and work specifically to promote good mental health in the region.
A rapidly growing and diverse range of policy and practice is premised on the beneficial impacts of natural environments for human health and wellbeing. However, there is still a need for greater understanding of how investing in the environment can benefit our health. This project is addressing knowledge gaps in this area, with a view to promoting natural capital – especially green and blue spaces – for social and economic benefits. We are working in partnership in SWEEP case study areas and across the region to inform and support stakeholders to implement and improve connections between environmental improvement/protection and population health.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have adapted some of our activities. One strand of the project intended to work with young people in schools to discuss how the natural environment could best support their mental health. Whilst this is no longer possible, our work will still aim to support targeted investment in natural environments for young people and for mental health. The pandemic and resulting lockdown have highlighted the importance of natural spaces for both physical and mental health; our priorities now are to support stakeholders in responding to challenges they may face in investing in nature for health in the future.
The project involves partners from within the core SWEEP region and also extends this further within the South West in order to develop wider opportunities and impact and to capitalise on regional excellence.
The programme of work
Working with key stakeholders in the environment and health sectors, we are developing a suite of linked activities over the two years of this project. We are considering a range of relevant environments and locations (marine/coastal, terrestrial, urban, rural) reflecting the breadth and diversity of opportunity in the region.
Activity 1 - Actor and action mapping: Guidance production
A series of stakeholder workshops and online consultations are being used to:
- Identify key organisations and opportunities in the South West for health improvement through environmental investment.
- Build a cross-sectoral network of these stakeholders to share resources, practice and evidence of what works.
- Establish and share existing regional good practice and policy.
- Co-produce information resources for environment and health partners giving practical guidance on how and why investment in the environment can improve health.
An initial workshop, led by the project partners, established the network. We are continuing to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources through a webinar series and the Investing in nature for health hub which can be accessed at the top of this page.
Further consultation with stakeholders has refined the priorities and outcomes of the project as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are producing information resources on: mechanisms for funding green space; the management of individual green spaces in response to potential austerity measures; and safe visits to, and consultation on, green spaces by local people under different Covid-19 scenarios.
Activity 2 - Building a business case and guidance
It is clear that in order to justify investment in the environment to promote and improve health, a sound business case is required.
A number of studies have estimated the potential health and related economic impacts of natural environments and health interventions that make use of them. This activity is drawing on existing evidence to undertake a comprehensive review and build a business case suitable to underpin future investment. This business case will help to guide investment, and highlight opportunities.
Siân is Impact Fellow on the Investing in Nature for Health project, where she is helping to translate current evidence on the interconnections between the environment and health to inform environmental investment and management.
Siân has been a member of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) since 2018 when she joined them to work on Greenkeeper, an Innovate UK project which developed a toolkit to value the benefits of urban green spaces.
Prior to that studied BSc Biology at the University of Bristol before moving to the University of York for her PhD investigating the benefits of freshwater blue space for health and well-being.
Ben Wheeler is a Senior Research Fellow at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter Medical School. He has a BSc in Environmental Science and a PhD in Social Medicine, and has previously worked in medical schools and geography departments in the UK and New Zealand. Ben has a wide range of research interests in environment-health interconnections, but primarily applies geographical and epidemiological methods to examine the impacts that the environment can have on human health. Recently, Ben has been working to use the research to inform health and environmental policy at various scales, from Cornwall Council, to Natural England to the World Health Organisation.