The NHS Forest team at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare recently worked with Forest Research to develop a groundbreaking report on the monetary benefits of trees and woodland on the NHS estate. The NHS Trees and Woodland Valuation Pilot Study aimed to quantify and assess the significant contribution of trees to ecosystem services on NHS estates.

Trees are valuable infrastructure assets. These natural assets are often called the world’s ‘natural capital’. Moreover, the benefits offered by trees are also hugely important to the economy. However, trees and woodlands on the NHS estate are often seen as a liability to be managed rather than an asset to be maintained. The new report aims to change that perception by showing the natural capital value of trees.

The value of the NHS green estate is not well understood. Furthermore, the NHS estate is extremely varied, with competing priorities for use and management. An estimate of ecosystem service provision and the value of the NHS green estate will support better decision making amongst stakeholders.

Monetary benefits of trees and woodland on NHS estate

The study was conducted across four sites – Meanwood in Leeds, Fazakerley in Liverpool, Southmead Hospital in Bristol, and Royal United Hospitals in Bath. It showed how trees and woodlands offer a range of invaluable ecosystem services. These include carbon storage and sequestration, air pollution removal, flood regulation, temperature regulation, and noise mitigation. The total estimated annual monetary flow of these services across the four sites was a staggering £82,531. The estimated capital asset values ranged from £300,000 – £1.5m.

In addition, the report emphasised the vital role of trees and woodland in aligning with crucial NHS priorities. These range from achieving net-zero carbon emissions and mitigating air pollution impacts to managing floods, and bolstering health and wellbeing. It is estimated 29% of British hospitals are in areas where the particulate matter PM2.5 exceeds World Health Organisation recommended limits. Maintaining and increasing tree cover on NHS sites can help improve this reducing instances of respiratory and other diseases. In fact, evidence suggests those living in areas with good tree cover use medical services less than those living in low-cover areas.

Next steps for valuing NHS trees

Nick Porter, Urban Forest Researcher at Forest Research, explains what the future might hold for this pilot study: “It has been a privilege for Forest Research to work with the NHS Forest project to look in more depth at the value provided by trees across the four NHS sites in this study.  The work has highlighted the differences in tree cover across these sites and thus the range in the benefits they provide.  It is hoped that the insights gained from this report can act as a benchmark for future studies on these and other NHS sites and provide sound data to support management decisions to improve the benefits that these trees provide into the future.”

The pilot study provides a tantalising snapshot of the quantifiable value of trees and woodlands on the NHS estate. However, further research is needed to gain a complete picture. This piece of work focused solely on the financial value of the ecosystem services provided by trees and woodlands. It did not consider other benefits such as cost savings from improved health and shorter hospital stays. As such, the estimates in this report are conservative, and the true value will be much higher. Nevertheless, this report highlights the pressing need to integrate nature’s contributions into healthcare planning and underscores the potential for these natural assets to play a pivotal role in advancing both sustainability and health objectives.

Read the full report.

Watch Nick Porter from Forest Research talking about the work at the NHS Forest conference.

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