Authors: Caitriona Carlin, Martin Cormican and Mike Gormally
Summary: This project reviewed (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
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Public expenditure on health in Ireland faces increasing challenges posed by an aging population with 60% of adults diagnosed as obese. Irish adults are not active enough (68%), and 1 in 10 Irish people aged 15 and older report a probably mental health problem. As they age, future populations are likely to face increasing chronic illnesses linked to obesity and depression. Healthy environments promote human health and wellbeing. This research shows that connecting with nature makes people feel happy, more restored and motivated to be more active, which is in keeping with Healthy Ireland and EPA goals.
This is the first study to connect the perceptions and values of key decision-makers in Ireland regarding green spaces, nature and health. In this study, engineers, planners, local authority biodiversity decision-makers, conservationists and health promotion officers strongly agreed with the perception that contact with nature benefits health and wellbeing. Decision-makers differed in how they viewed the design and appearance of multifunctional green spaces. Four of the five decision-making groups recognised that biodiversity was an important function of green spaces. Engineers’ perceptions were less positive than other decision-makers’ regarding the potential to integrate biodiversity into playgrounds, sports grounds and amenity areas. This project is relevant to the EPA Corporate Strategy ‘Strategic Plan 2016-2020 – Our Environment, Our Wellbeing’. The project is relevant to 18 of the 64 actions outlined within the Healthy Ireland Framework and addresses a further 11 Health Service Executive initiatives.
The overwhelming conclusion of this study is that policies and practices regarding health and nature need to be better integrated. In particular, the research recommends that Health Service Executive and local authorities should work more closely together to ensure that access to attractive biodiverse space is secured at strategic planning levels. This collaboration should also entail carrying out baseline assessments, providing training and delivering pilot programmes such as those delivered in other jurisdictions. Devising and implementing a cross sectoral health–nature strategy would embed nature at the heart of everyday decisions and support a healthy environment and society.https://www.epa.ie/media/epa-2020/publications/research/EPA-Research-Report-195_20mm.jpg