Green Health Routes
Green Health Routes take healthcare sites as their focus, either as a departure point, or – for larger sites – walking around their grounds. These well-planned routes incorporate multiple green spaces, are suitable for walkers of all ages and abilities, and can be walked independently or as part of a guided group.
Importantly, Green Health Routes can often be recommended by healthcare professionals as ‘green prescriptions’. Spending time in green spaces, as part of a social group, while undertaking gentle exercise, can offer multiple mental and physical health benefits.
Our Green Health Routes initiative
The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare’s Green Health Routes initiative supports communities to discover and explore diverse green spaces near their homes. Each Green Health Route begins in a community hub, such as a GP surgery or a library, before winding through local parks and publicly accessible nature reserves and along waterways. A key part of this project was the creation of maps, developed in consultation with the communities, which were then distributed as leaflets and posters to schools, health centres and other community venues.
Regular walking groups led by volunteers encourage families, individuals and hospital staff to walk these routes. From time to time, special interest walks are led by naturalist guides who introduce walkers to the area’s native flora and fauna.
CSH works with local practitioners who are encouraged to offer these walks, along with the maps and leaflets, as part of green social prescribing initiatives. This project is an excellent example of an integrated approach to public health and wellbeing, and demonstrates how sites without green space of their own can make the most of nature when working with patients and the wider community.
Healthcare sites with Green Health Routes
GMMH headquarters at Prestwich, in Greater Manchester, is in a semi-rural area bordered by parks. Prior to the creation of its Green Health Route, a habitat survey was carried out which recorded many wildlife species, including endangered and protected species and several types of bat. The guided route was then developed in collaboration with staff and service users at the hospital, marking out points of natural interest such as fruit trees and a small forest, an allotment and herb garden. Bat and bird boxes and a bug hotel line the route, encouraging more wildlife.
In West Yorkshire, Todmorden Group Practice is included on a Green Health Route which takes in all of the town’s Incredible Edible sites. GPs encourage their patients to walk the route regularly, and take part in the maintenance of the practice’s garden on their way.
CSH has partnered with Plantlife Cymru and the National Trust to develop two Meadows Health and Wellbeing Routes, in Bangor and Cardiff. The routes link hospitals with nearby wildflower meadows, and can be used as part of patient care as well as encouraging health staff to spend time walking in nature. There are guided walks along the routes, leaflets including biodiversity information and a map, and a digital StoryMap which lets viewers virtually explore the trail. This is particularly helpful for patients who cannot access the meadow and to introduce staff to the route.
How to create a Green Health Route – our top tips
Green Health Routes vary from region to region, but always involve projects involve several key partners:
- GPs and other health professionals to recommend the walks to patients and display posters and leaflets at health centres,
- Schools and community groups to host our nature engagement activities, take part in community walks, display maps and distribute leaflets to families
- Local councils to advise on the routes, train volunteer walk leaders and promote and support walking groups.
Each CSH Green Health Route begins with the creation of a neighbourhood map, developed in close consultation with communities, to highlight the area’s publicly accessible green space. This map identifies routes, which start in community hubs such as health centres or libraries, and ‘joins the dots’ to the surrounding green spaces, creating walks of varying lengths that are suitable for adults and children.
The maps are widely distributed as leaflets and posters at community venues in the area, and as downloads. Some routes are promoted with permanent street signs. The initiative also includes nature engagement activities at schools or community venues.
Our programme works closely with healthcare practitioners, including GPs and social prescribers. The maps, leaflets and the walking groups can be offered as part of a ‘green prescription’.
Banner photo: Meadows Health and Wellbeing Route, Bangor. Photo: Cassie Crocker / Plantlife, May 2021. All rights reserved.