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Natural health service: wildlife volunteers get mental health boost

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Volunteers on wildlife projects benefit from a big boost to their mental health, according to new research. It advances the idea that nature could be widely prescribed by doctors as a therapy, which its supporters say would ease the burden on the NHS. The new analysis tracked people across England taking part in projects run by the Wildlife Trusts, ranging from nature walks and conservation work to the Men in Sheds project in Bolton, which makes bird tables and bug hotels. The volunteers’ wellbeing was tracked using questionnaires by researchers from the University of Essex and they found that half of the people who started with low mental wellbeing had improved after 12 weeks. Two-thirds of all the participants noticed improved wellbeing within six weeks. Some of the volunteers had experienced poor mental health and been referred to the Wildlife Trusts’ schemes by GPs, health centres and NHS trusts. The experience of wildlife, gardening and craftwork was transformational for some. “Getting out in nature makes me feel like I’ve been born again,” said one. “It has stopped me living under a duvet all day,” said another. “The evidence is loud and clear – volunteering in wild places while being supported by Wildlife Trust staff has a clear impact on people’s health,” said Dominic Higgins at the Wildlife Trusts. “It makes people feel better, happier and more connected to other people. The Department of Health should take note – our findings could help reduce the current burden on the NHS because they illustrate a new model of caring for people that does not rely solely on medication and traditional services.” Mike Rogerson at the University of Essex, who led the new research, said: “At a time when we are losing count of the crises in local- and national-level health, engagement with these volunteering activities can provide a much-needed antidote for individuals, local areas and the UK as a whole.” There is good evidence that contact with nature is beneficial for both physical and mental health, and a government assessment in 2011 estimated that the health and welfare benefits of green spaces were £30bn a year. But these benefits are rarely taken into account by decision-makers and huge numbers of green spaces have been lost to development in recent decades. In February, a committee of MPs warned that Britain’s cash-starved parks were at the tipping point of decline.

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Posted by on Oct 3 2017. Filed under News at Now, Wildlife. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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