Updated: Feb 13
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home to many of us how important our green spaces are both to our mental and physical health, and how we need to protect them. That view is now backed up by an official study led by Natural England, carried out in earlier in the summer, which found almost half the population (46%) are spending more time outside than before the pandemic, up from 26% in May.
The People and Nature Survey for England also revealed that 42% of adults reported that ‘nature and wildlife is more important than ever to my wellbeing’ and 35% reported visiting local green and natural spaces more often.
The benefits of learning about nature were also highlighted: the study found an increase in the percentage of adults who think that learning outside or about nature is especially important for their child at this time (28% of adults with children, up from 19% in June and May).
Nearly half of adults with children also believe their child seems happier when they have spent time outside (46%, up from 36% in June and 40% in May).
West Sussex County Council, it seems, is in agreement. An article in West Sussex Connections Autumn issue has the headline ‘De-Stress in the Great Outdoors’. The two-page feature in the magazine put together by West Sussex County Council shows a photo of walker in an ancient green lane in Halnaker Woods. It says that getting out there walking or cycling in an outdoor attraction in West Sussex helps healthy endorphins kick in “and your body will reap the benefits”.
So strong is the evidence for the heath benefits of woodland spaces that the NHS is involved in a project called NHS Forest. The initiative’s aims include using new and existing woodland for art, food crops, reflection and exercise, and to encourage biodiversity, and to highlight innovative ideas to encourage the use green space for therapeutic purposes. It says: “Access to green space, particularly including trees, reduces cortisol (stress) levels, increases physical activity and speeds recovery if you have been ill. The NHS Forest makes the simple connection between health and the environment.”
Scientists in Japan have been investigating how spending time in forests or Shinrin-yoku (translated as forest bathing) causes a physical response in the body and mind. One early study showed that blood glucose levels in diabetic patients decrease when they walk in a forest for 3 or 6 km, while later research on the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku showed that viewing forest landscapes and walking in forest settings leads to lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure.
However, those of us who visit Pallinghurst Woods, Loxwood to walk, ride and explore don't need scientists to tell us the benefits of being in this precious green space - we can feel it for ourselves at every step.