Volunteering with nature can boost mental health, Colchester-led research finds
- Credit: Archant
Volunteering on projects that bring people closure to nature can help to boost mental health, a study pioneered by the University of Essex has found.
Around 95% of people who admitted having poor mental health at the start of the study reported significant improvements after six weeks of volunteering with the Wildlife Trusts.
Further improvements were felt over a 12-week period, the research showed.
The study assessed changes in the attitudes, behaviour and well-being of 139 people.
Schemes included a wide range of activities from scrub clearance and tree planting to building bird tables, bug hotels and growing food.
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As well as the near-universal improvements for those with poor levels of mental health, volunteering in nature improved the wellbeing of 69% of all participants.
People also reported having more positive feelings, greater general health, more physical activity and more contact with natural and green spaces.
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Nature volunteering could provide an important “non-medical” service to help people and relieve the burden on the NHS, the report suggested.
Dominic Higgins, nature and well-being manager at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The evidence is loud and clear - volunteering in wild places has a clear impact on people’s health; it makes people feel better, happier and more connected to other people. Participants also reported increases in their sense of connection to nature.
“The Department of Health should take note - our findings could help reduce the current burden on the NHS because they illustrate a new model of caring for people that does not rely solely on medication and traditional services.”
Dr Mike Rogerson, from the University of Essex, said the findings showed that attendance on the projects was associated with a number of important health and wellbeing related measures.
“At a time when we are losing count of local and national-level health, wellbeing, loneliness, community, and NHS burden crises, engagement with the Wildlife Trusts’ volunteering activities can provide a much-needed antidote for individuals, local areas and the UK as a whole,” he said.