Following a trial period in Scotland, “Nature Prescriptions” – a free to use non medical approach to boosting physical and mental health – is a new project on trial in Derbyshire. The project, led by a collaboration between the RSPB and the Peak District National Park Authority, if successful may be rolled out in other regions.
Borne from concerns around growing healthcare issues and the wider recognition of the benefits of being outdoors for mental well-being, especially highlighted during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project aims to encourage a low-intervention and low-cost approach to prevention and dealing with a range of issues by “prescribing” time spent in nature.
A Prescription for Natural Healing
Over the past decade there has been increased acknowledgement of the benefits of time spent connecting to nature. With both physical exercise through just a short stroll shown to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health, helping to prevent obesity, diabetes and other related health issues together with a therapeutic effect of stepping away from a busy life, the Nature Prescriptions are intended to complement traditional medical treatments.
What Exactly are Nature Prescriptions?
Nature Prescriptions in Derbyshire and the Peak District will follow the format used in the Scottish programme trial. The prescription is given in the form of a leaflet and calendar of nature activities. In the case of the Derbyshire model this will be produced by the RSPB and Peak District National Park Authority, giving details of suggested suitable activities.
Activities may range from “green exercise” which can range from a walk in a local park or out in the countryside, making a partial switch to active travel (walking or cycling) to non-physical suggestions such as observing wildlife, taking nature photographs, listening to the sounds or taking time in nature to reflect.
A Nature Prescription calendar may include suggestions such as to sit by a window and spend some time appreciating and noticing what you see. It may suggest making an effort to rise at dawn and listen to the birdsong of the early morning. Another day might suggest visiting a green space in your town or city that you have not visited. And of course, taking a walk in the Peak District is a highly recommended activity for those physically able to do so.
The calendar and leaflet are supported by a guided conversation between a GP and their patient to encourage and emphasise the very real positives to be had from appreciating the outdoors.
Why do we Need Nature Prescriptions?
During the development of the Nature Prescription, studies into accessibility and opportunity have been taken into account as some may be lucky enough to be able to do these activities in the garden. In the town or city some travel may be necessary and taking time out to spend in nature may be seen as frivolous.
The idea behind making it an actual prescription (but without the prescription charge) is to emphasise the very real benefits of taking time out of a busy schedule. It is hoped that giving the recipient a permission to take this time out, and the value of it being underwritten by a healthcare professional will encourage more to take up the suggestions. In turn, over the longer term, a wider connection with nature should bring a reduction of physical and mental health issues.
Am I Fit Enough for a Nature Prescription?
Yes! Nature Prescriptions are for all levels of fitness. You can participate and feel the benefits with even by sitting down and practicing mindfulness.
As the programme is designed to support the leaflet and calendar suggestions alongside a discussion with a GP or Healthcare Provider, you can also seek suggestions and advice if you feel that you would like to increase your physical activity.
If you do have, or wish to regain, a level of physical fitness then you can fit this around the suggested activities. For those who can, a walk in the county or a cross country run can be a fantastic way to clear the head of noisy jumbled thoughts
The scheme allows the end user to go at a pace that suits them and is not designed to be a fitness bootcamp! You may wish to combine suggested activities with increasing the amount you walk. Or if you used to run or run a little, you can work this into the suggestions but neither of these are necessary steps.
How can Nature Prescriptions Help?
Many studies illustrate a clear link between a connection to nature and reductions in fatigue, stress and anxiety, depression, inflammation, obesity and type 2 diabetes. In addition nature’s benefits show in a better performing immune system and improved concentration.
Are Nature Prescriptions in Derbyshire Only?
At the time of writing, the Derbyshire and Peak District scheme is the first trial in England following previous trials in Edinburgh and the Shetlands where 74% of patients reported notable benefits and 87% intending to continue to engage with nature to support their general health in the future.
Should such positive reports be repeated in the Derbyshire trial the scheme could be rolled out to more regions in time.