NUI Galway and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have published a pilot study that connects health benefits with people’s perceptions of nature. The report, ‘Health Benefits from Biodiversity and Green Infrastructure’ describes how people “perceive contact with nature and how it enhances their health and wellbeing”.
Professor Martin Cormican, Centre for Health from Environment NUIG, and a lead author of the report, said: “Caring for the environment is about caring for people. The environment is the foundation of our personal wellbeing and of our communities. Communities working together with local authorities, health service and environmental agencies is the most effective and the least expensive way to get to help people live well and live long. Our work helps to find better ways in which we can work towards that goal.”
Researchers from NUI Galway assessed (1) evidence of wellbeing and health benefits from biodiversity, (2) views of health benefits from nature held by people who make decisions regarding green space and (3) practices to engage the public with the natural environment as a sustainable health strategy, to inform policymakers and practitioners of the health benefits from the natural environment, and to recommend implementation strategies in Ireland.
Key recommendations from the report include:
- Health Service Executive and local authorities should work closer together to ensure that access to attractive biodiverse space is secured at strategic planning levels.
- Safe accessible nature spaces should be co-designed with communities, reflect local needs and be within 300m of people’s homes.
- The overarching recommendation is that health officials and environmental organisations need to work together to safeguard a healthy environment for healthy communities.
Professor Mike Gormally from the Applied Ecology Unit at NUI Galway, and a lead author of the report, said: “Recognising that people’s perceptions of nature differ is the first step. The next step is to discover how their perceptions influence the actions of key green space decision-makers and how that might impact on biodiversity.”
Dr Caitriona Carlin from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, and a lead author of the report, said: “We were delighted that all stakeholders recognised that contact with nature was important for their health and wellbeing. Some stakeholders were happy knowing nature was just around the corner, or talked about the presence of street trees. It is really important to create or retrofit urban spaces for nature and for people, to help them exercise, relax and feel calm. When people value that connection with nature, they are also more likely to conserve it.”
This research was conducted in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, with collaboration from the Health Service Executive (HSE) and local authorities.