In an age where stress and anxiety seem to be ever-present, the pursuit of holistic wellbeing has become increasingly imperative. Amongst these health pressures we face as a society, an emerging area of social prescribing has become more recognised in this model of care. This is green social prescribing – a natural community-based solution to improving our mental and physical health.

What is green social prescribing?

Green social prescribing is a practice that involves healthcare professionals referring patients to non-clinical interventions within nature-based activities or environments. These interventions can range from horticultural therapy to outdoor mindfulness sessions, ecotherapy walks and tree planting. The underlying principle is simple yet profound: nature has the power to heal and play an integral role in transforming people’s lives.

The importance of this intervention cannot be overstated. In a world where many are disconnected from nature, reintegrating it into our lives can have transformative effects. Growing evidence has shown that spending time in nature can reduce stress, anxiety, and be a natural pain reliever. Green social prescribing offers a structured way to harness these benefits.

Having delivered a variety of green social prescribing programmes, it has been incredible to witness firsthand the profound impact that nature and the outdoors can have on people’s lives. Through delivering nature-based activities in the community such as wellbeing courses and practical conservation and gardening, I’ve seen how incorporating nature into people’s lives goes far beyond just being in a green space. It fosters a sense of purpose, belonging, and connection to the natural world and the local community.

Central to green social prescribing are the Five Ways to Wellbeing: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, and Give Back, where engaging in nature-based activities naturally aligns with these principles. Whether it’s connecting with others through shared experiences in nature, being active through physical tasks like tree planting, or taking notice of the intricate beauty of the natural world through photography, each aspect can positively contribute to participants’ overall wellbeing.

Similarly at the heart of this model of care lies the concept of nature connectedness – the feeling of being emotionally connected to the natural world. Through immersive experiences like forest bathing and wildlife observation, participants reconnect with nature and rediscover a sense of wonder, awe and respect that may have been lost in the hustle and bustle of daily life. This deepening connection promotes mental and emotional resilience, even in the face of life’s challenges.

Social prescribing for social inclusion

One of the most striking aspects of delivering green social prescribing activities is the way it helps combat social isolation and loneliness. In a society where many feel disconnected from both others and the natural world, these activities provide a space for individuals to come together, share experiences, and form meaningful connections in a natural setting. Engaging in activities like gardening, practical conservation and natural crafting provides individuals with a focus and instils a sense of ownership and pride in their surroundings. As they witness the fruits of their labour (quite literally in the case of gardening!), participants develop a deeper connection to their community and local green spaces.

Beyond its impact on people, green social prescribing also benefits nature and the environment. By engaging in conservation efforts like habitat restoration, participants actively contribute to enhancing and protecting biodiversity, whilst ensuring the environment’s ecosystem services continue to sustain and support us. This reinforces the idea that environmental and human health are intrinsically linked, emphasising that a sense of stewardship and responsibility to take action and protect our planet for future generations is vital.

My experiences of delivering green social prescribing activities and monitoring their impact have reinforced how nature and the outdoors are an essential part of our health and wellbeing. Evidence has shown that by integrating more natural prescriptions in people’s care, it can alleviate the time and financial pressure on the NHS. Particularly during Covid, I noticed how nature and the outdoors were used by the participants as a constant in their lives, when the world around them was full of uncertainties and sadness, with some struggling to get out of bed in the morning. I know first-hand how these initiatives can create a more sustainable healthcare system benefitting environmental and human health.

To ensure widespread adoption of these interventions, empowering healthcare professionals and key decision makers is vital, so they feel confident in referring patients onto nature-based activities. At the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, we strive to educate and inspire the sector to realise the potential of green social prescribing and recognise the transformative impact it can have in improving their patients’ mental and physical health. As we all continue to navigate the complexities and pressures of modern life, what I urge people to take home from reading this blog is the power that lies within the embrace of the natural world – for the benefit of both people and our planet.

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