Research shows all natural environments are not equal

Posted on 7th May 2015

Different types of green space are likely to have varying effects on health and wellbeing, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

The research has looked closely at several kinds of natural environment, recommending that the type, quality and context of ‘greenspace’ should be considered in future environment and health research.

The study has examined the relationship between health and a range of green spaces, including woodland, farmland and grassland habitats, as well as saltwater and coastal locations.

A growing body of work is suggesting that natural environments could offer benefits for health and wellbeing, yet some of the evidence is mixed and inconclusive.

The results from this work have shown that whilst all greenspace might offer support for good population health, this can vary according to the characteristics of the natural environment.

Lead author of the research, Dr Ben Wheeler, believes the findings will help us develop more robust studies in the future. He said:

“Green spaces can be hugely variable in both type and quality, yet are commonly treated as just one standardised environment. We’ve shown that the health-promoting characteristics of an urban grassy park might be different from a leafy woodland, and that these differences should be taken into account when assessing the health impacts of natural environments.”

The researchers used data on land cover type, bird species richness, water quality and protected or designated status to create environmental indicators for small areas across England. They then compared these with health measures from the 2011 Census.

One of the paper’s co-authors, Dr Rebecca Lovell, said:

“Natural environments have the potential to offer health benefits through stress reduction, opportunities and motivation for physical activity, and reduced air pollution exposure. If we can understand how different environments might each affect our wellbeing, we can ensure we maximise the prospects they might offer.”

The authors were also keen to note that this type of study has limitations and cannot prove ‘cause and effect’, but it is part of a wider investigation of the links between nature, health and wellbeing.

Click here for full details of the Beyond Greenspace project.

This research paper is available in the International Journal of Health Geographics


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Beyond Greenspace

Beyond Greenspace aimed to improve our understanding in this area by examining how different types and qualities of natural environment have varying relationships with human health and wellbeing. The project used some of the UK’s extremely valuable existing (‘secondary’) datasets to address this research question.

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