Rapid scoping review of health and wellbeing evidence for the Green Infrastructure Standards

The Rapid scoping review of health and wellbeing evidence for the Green Infrastructure Standards was commissioned by Natural England to inform the development of the National Framework of Green Infrastructure Standards, a commitment in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which Natural England is leading to green our towns and cities for health and wellbeing, climate resilience and prosperity, in particular for disadvantaged urban populations.

The review, undertaken by Becca Lovell and Ben Wheeler working with a team of colleagues at ECEHH, clarifies what is known about the role of Green Infrastructure in influencing human health.

The following questions were asked of the existing evidence:

  • Does the evidence support the inclusion of health and wellbeing as a key benefit of green infrastructure?

Although the evidence base is incomplete and sometimes inconsistent it does indicate that green infrastructure has a positive influence on health and wellbeing influencing health and wellbeing.

  • Does the evidence indicate how green infrastructure benefits or harms health and wellbeing?

Green infrastructure benefits health through a number of pathways such as promoting positive mental health states, providing a context and motivation for physical activity and recreation, and allowing people to experience nature. It also can influence health through the mitigation of risks such as heat island effects, noise pollution, flooding and poor air quality. Green infrastructure can, however, result in ecosystem dis-benefits such as increased exposure to pollen or zoonotic disease which have the potential to harm health and wellbeing.

  • What is ‘good’ or ‘good enough’ green infrastructure for health and wellbeing outcomes?

Although it’s not yet clear what is ‘good’ or ‘good enough’ green infrastructure for health outcomes, the evidence indicates that:

    • Greener living environments are associated with better health and wellbeing.
    • Different types, sizes and configurations of green infrastructure afford different benefits and that mixed provision (e.g. a mix of publicly accessible greenspaces, domestic and shared gardens, green routes and street trees) is most likely to be beneficial.
    • Both publicly accessible and private greenspace (e.g. domestic gardens, institutional spaces) have a role in promoting health and wellbeing.
    • It is likely that greenspaces that are closer to the home or education/workplace are important, however, ‘accessibility’ varies according to factors such as urban form, terrain, climate, availability of transport; safety, maintenance and other characteristics of paths and spaces; and personal factors such as preferences, physical capacity to walk etc. It also appears that people are selective in their choice of destination and that proximity is not necessarily the primary factor. The perception of proximity appears to be as important as objective
    • Better quality and well-maintained green infrastructure is associated with better health and wellbeing outcomes.
    • The evidence suggests that the value of different types, amounts and locations of green infrastructure for health and wellbeing outcomes is likely to be highly contextual; what is appropriate in one locale may not be appropriate in another.
  • Does improving the amount, quality and connectivity of green infrastructure improve health and wellbeing?

Again, the evidence base currently has limited utility to answer this question, however it suggests that:

    • In new developments mixed provision (e.g. a mix of different sizes and types of publicly accessible greenspaces, domestic and shared gardens, green routes, street trees etc.) with appropriate connectivity is most likely to be beneficial.
    • Improving the quality and management of green infrastructure and improving knowledge of and accessibility of spaces may have a positive impact on perceptions and use.
    • Interventions to promote use need to be plural, involving changes to physical spaces in addition to complementary social programmes.
    • There is evidence that new, or modifications to the provision or management of existing green infrastructure can exacerbate inequalities in health through processes such as gentrification or unequal access.
    • The provision, modification or use of green infrastructure to promote health and wellbeing is most likely to be successful if there is a good understanding of the local social, cultural and economic context, where the health needs of target populations are understood, and where linkages are made with, and buy-in gained from wider networks of social and health services.

Rapid scoping review of health and wellbeing evidence for the Green Infrastructure Standards

Report
Published: September 2020
University of Exeter, European Centre for Environment and Human Health, ECEHH:
Rebecca Lovell, Mathew P White, Benedict Wheeler, Tim Taylor, Lewis Elliott
Report for:
Natural England, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Public Health England, and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government
Further information:
http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/

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