In spring 2021, the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) placed three Nature Recovery Rangers at hospital sites in Bristol, Liverpool and London. With support from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the rangers are helping hospital teams to consolidate and extend their ideas and ambitions for the development and use of green spaces on and around their sites. The focus of this initiative is to conserve and restore natural resources for environmental and personal wellbeing. 

Within just a few months, the presence of dedicated rangers has made a substantial difference to hospital life. As well as quickly introducing new green space initiatives of their own, they have substantially enhanced the impact of existing nature projects. Many hospital staff working in maintenance, sustainability and volunteering have ambitions and plans for these green spaces, and a dedicated ranger can help turn these into reality. Their close attention can ensure that initiatives such as ‘No Mow May’ are a success, by engaging and working with maintenance staff to devise sustainable plans for creating, protecting and enhancing green spaces for nature. 

Benefits for staff, patients and the community

Their combination of conservation and engagement skills means that rangers are well qualified to enhance green spaces for both people and nature. They have uncovered green nooks and crannies that can be coaxed into providing refuges for staff, patients and native wildlife. Staff can take breaks surrounded by greenery and flowers, and have been encouraged to improve their local environments, from flower beds outside their ward windows to potted plants by the entrances. These improvements make hospitals nicer places to work and encourage staff to spend time in the fresh air and sunlight.

Patients are also benefitting from the expanded green space at these sites. Mount Vernon Cancer Centre’s ‘Fern Garden’ has been designed so that chemotherapy treatment can be delivered in a peaceful, outdoor green shelter, for a far more restful and restorative experience. Liverpool’s Broadgreen Hospital has an accessible sensory garden for physical therapy; both projects are being supported by the on-site rangers in their development and patient engagement. 

Ranger Karen MacKelvie gets staff gardening at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre
Ranger Karen MacKelvie gets staff gardening at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre. Photo: Karen MacKelvie / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Ranger Phoebe Webster inspects the bug hotel at Southmead Hospital
Ranger Phoebe Webster inspects the bug hotel at Southmead Hospital. Photo: Vicki Brown / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

There is also plenty of scope for encouraging the wider community to engage with these green spaces. Children in Bristol, for example, are learning about wildlife habitats and homes and finding ways to establish these in Southmead Hospital’s extensive grounds. At Mount Vernon, local volunteers have been planting wildflower plugs in the sweeping lawns, creating a vast meadow.

“With plans in place for more initiatives for our patients (outdoor waiting rooms and weekly woodland wanders, to name just two) and the involvement of our local community, I am excited about the impacts we will continue to be able to validate. The network of rangers provides valuable support to progress the project still further.”

Ginnie Abubakar, Community Engagement Manager at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre

The future for rangers

Our Nature Recovery Rangers programme is being run on a pilot basis, and CSH will be fully evaluating its outcomes. Already, however, we can see key strengths. The rangers are employed and managed by CSH, providing a connection to national networks and resources and many opportunities to share ideas and experience with each other and other CSH staff. Their work is overseen on a day-to-day basis by NHS managers at their health sites, ensuring that the rangers’ work is closely tailored to local needs and opportunities, including reaching new sections of their communities and developing the ecological and health value of their sites.

Ranger Fiona Megarrell leads staff to create a new allotment in Liverpool
Ranger Fiona Megarrell leads staff to create a new allotment in Liverpool. Photo: Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Our programme is unlocking the benefits of green heritage. NHS hospitals are permanent local landmarks and often well loved by their communities, who have an interest in both their landscapes and their social history. The NHS Forest’s Nature Recovery Rangers have the potential to make these NHS sites into green hubs for local residents, while also improving wellbeing for patients and staff. 

Read more about the three pilot sites in London, Bristol and Liverpool. The evaluation of the project can be found here.

The project was funded by the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund was developed by Defra and its Arm’s-Length Bodies. It is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

Green Recovery Challenge Fund logo