Why nature is not just nice but necessary
Fine autumn days are a great time to get outside and enjoy the natural world, walking or running or maybe just looking around at changing colours. We all enjoy being in nature, but recent research by mental health charity MIND indicates that this can have an actual effect on our mental wellbeing. Being in nature, it seems, makes people with mental health problems better, and makes the mentally well more resilient. There has been research before, but this is a particularly sturdy piece of work.
The event at which this was mentioned, the launch of the People’s Choice of best Green Flag park, also had as speaker the deputy chief medical officer from the Department of Health. He stressed the virtue of open space – it is true that we can exercise, which is good for us, but even without exercise, he said, these places are good for us.
Getting outside and interacting with nature is not just a matter of having some decent parks, although of course, these are essential. We also have to get to them and be encouraged to get to them, which means having streets that we can cross and cities that we can navigate – an integrated piece of urban design. And, of course, the natural experience does not have to be confined to parks. Street trees and even front gardens can play their part.
It may cost a bit to plant a few trees but as a health measure, it is laughably inexpensive. Local authorities now have responsibility for public health. Anything that can help reduce illness, cutting down on attendance at GP surgeries and hospitals, reducing drug bills and, crucially, getting people back to work, is vital. It may not quite be the magic bullet, but the magic tree could save lives and money. Let’s just hope the parks departments and public health are talking to each other.