The need for a ‘green agenda’, an agenda in which the health and wellbeing both of the natural environment and of people is valued, has never been more pressing.
During the restrictions to control the covid pandemic, the nation’s mental wellbeing suffered, and people turned to nature, and continue to do so. At the same time, the natural world is also in crisis. The climate is warming and biological diversity is declining faster that at any time in our history. As society strives to transition to more sustainable ways of working, understanding the intrinsic link between biodiversity and human wellbeing is key.
In the 1962 publication ‘Silent Spring’, environmental scientist Rachel Carson wrote of our relationship with the natural environment in these terms: ‘Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.’
A groundswell of research and experience underpin this proposition. Experiences of the last year are testament to it – opportunities to walk with others, to sit in the garden talking to neighbours across the fence, a surge in sales of vegetable seeds and the magnetism of the seaside are all part of this picture. The Mental Health Foundation report of 2021 emphasises that ‘nature’ is an important need for many and vital in keeping us emotionally, psychologically and physically healthy. 45% of people in the UK reported that visiting green spaces helped them to cope throughout the pandemic. A further message of this research is a need to shift attention from focusing on getting people to visit natural and sometimes remote spaces, to focusing on how people can tune in and connect with ‘everyday’ nature close to home through simple activities – ‘nature connectedness’ rather than simply connection to nature.
Perhaps not surprisingly, people with strong nature connectedness are also more likely to have pro-environmental behaviours. At a time of devastating environmental threats, developing a stronger mutually supportive relationship between people and the environment will be critical.
The Dasgupta review 2019 on the economics of biodiversity describes Nature as ‘our most precious assets’, proposing that beyond its intrinsic, and incalculable worth, biodiversity provides fundamental natural ‘dividends’ that nourish and protect us: from basic sustenance through fish stocks or insects that pollinate crops, to soil regeneration, and water and flooding regulation. Not to mention the cultural and spiritual values that enrich our lives and contribute to our wellbeing.
Here in Pembrokeshire there are many fantastic examples of environmental best practice, community growing, nature-based therapies and community green spaces. The recently formed Pembrokeshire Sustainable Natural Capital Forum will be established as a mechanism for sharing learning and ideas and developing collaborative funding bids. Grwp Resilience have been supporting open days on community gardens and allotments across the county. Existing forums such as the Pembrokeshire Sustainable Agricultural Network (PSAN), long established within the county and administered by PLANED, includes key organisations such as Natural Resources Wales and both farming unions, with the Welsh Government and sector specialists already engaged and routinely involved.
At a political level, the recently published Programme for Government 2021 to 2026 sets out priorities for building a ‘stronger, greener economy’ with the desire to ‘embed our response to the climate and nature emergency in everything we do’. Measures include a new Wales Transport Strategy, the allocation of £5 million to create a national forest from north to south and to expand arrangements to create or significantly enhance green spaces.
Focusing on health and wellbeing, the Green Health in Practice Conference 2017 was pivotal in raising the profile of green and social interventions in a formal health and care context. The increasing evidence in the potential of green, blue, social and creative prescribing and prevention projects to reduce demand on health and other services and make substantial contributions to human health and wellbeing, has led to the setting up of the Green Health in Practice network with a review of green and social prescribing models currently underway.
The covid-19 pandemic has starkly exposed the challenges endemic in our society. It’s emphasised concerns around mental health, reinforced inequalities and has in many ways exacerbated them, making addressing these issues all the more urgent. Lack of access to nature, green spaces and opportunities all too often mirrors other inequalities. Whilst nature can be found anywhere, high-quality nature spaces which we know are most likely to help support good mental health are not available equally to everyone in the UK. The newly launched Welsh Government funded Local Places for Nature- Breaking Barriers’ programme has made available grants to help people from excluded and disadvantaged communities across Wales to get in touch with nature.
To conclude, it is now clear the responsibility for mapping out the future for human health is not merely an issue for medicine and allied health. Perhaps more than any other issue affecting humanity, the future for the health of people and planet depends on multiple disciplines working together.
Whilst the scope of a ‘green agenda’ is broad, we very much hope the Together for Change Communities and the Green Agenda event has brought energy to an agenda that has relevance across agencies and geographies and that we believe is pivotal to the wellbeing of people and places.
Nature Connectedness Research Group
Mental Health Foundation – How connecting with nature benefits our mental health
How can nature connectedness improve wellbeing for people and nature?
The human – nature relationship and its impact on health: A critical review
Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru – Natural Resources Wales: The Second State of Natural Resources Report
The Dasgupta review on the Economics of Biodiversity 2019 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-the-economics-of-biodiversity-the-dasgupta-review
Welsh Government – Programme for Government 2021 – 2026
Programme for government 2021 to 2026 | GOV.WALES
World Health Organisation: Nature, biodiversity and health: an overview of interconnections (2021)
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