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Trust nature research published in “Journal of Interprofessional Care”

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in Mental health, News, Recovery and wellbeing on 28th August, 2019

“In a mental-health care setting, can nature conservation and health priorities align?” This is the question posed by a paper recently published in the “Journal of Interprofessional Care” where Tobit Emmens, Devon Partnership Trust's Managing Partner in Research and Development, collaborated with the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science and the Conservation Science Group at the University of Cambridge.
We all know of the benefits for physical and mental health that nature brings – whether through a knowledge of the scientific evidence of its benefits or from our own experience. Seaside and country retreats have been used historically to treat people with mental ill health – you only have to look at the earliest maps of Wonford House in Exeter which began life as a private asylum surrounded by acres of green space and beautiful trees, some of which are still here today.
The researchers hypothesised that if people connected with nature for its health benefits then they might at the same time support conservation goals, such as increasing biodiversity. The research set out to investigate:
  • Whether health and conservation professionals had the same perceptions of nature.
  • To list the health professionals’ preferred nature interventions for improving mental health.
  • To assess the potential conservation benefits of the preferred nature interventions.
The research was conducted through workshops and questionnaires and involved our staff, people who use our services and carers, and conservation professionals from the RSPB.
All of the 19 short-listed nature interventions preferred by the mental health participants met at least three of the pre-agreed conservation benefits criteria but there were a clear top three which had most benefit:
1. Create supported volunteer opportunities for NHS service users and carers, eg appropriate conservation work on the Trust’s estates, RSPB reserves, other conservation charities, etc.
2. Create wild/unmanaged areas for wildlife that are accessible by nature paths.
3. Create more healing gardens and nature spaces in and around our buildings, and improve the quality of existing green space by increasing the range of plants, flowers, trees, ponds, wildlife, and sensory experiences.
The paper concludes that while there is agreement between mental health participants and conservation professionals on the concepts of nature, there are also barriers to engagement in nature such as safety concerns when away from medical help, the potential physical risks of a wild environment, and phobias or perceived threats from livestock or wildlife.
Any collaboration between NHS and conservation organisations should focus on understanding what both groups want to achieve and promoting the interventions that provide real benefits to the nature as well as for mental wellbeing.