As wild places have disappeared, with them so has our sense of connection to and contact with the natural world; while levels of physical inactivity, obesity, heart disease, depression and Type 2 diabetes have all risen.
Inactivity affects around two thirds of adults. It poses a significant risk to the population’s health by increasing the risk of developing more than six major diseases. Physical inactivity alone costs us £20 billion every year.
And it’s not just adults, the physical fitness of children is declining by up to nine per cent per decade. Pressures on the NHS are growing and costs are forecast to rise inexorably.
It’s not only our physical health that’s a worry. Good mental health is recognised as important for our wellbeing too. Shocking figures suggest at least one in four people will experience a mental health problem during their life.
Can we, our families and society as a whole, afford to carry on living like this?
The Wildlife Trusts say ‘No’. We believe there is a cheap and ready solution to tackle some of these massive issues: contact with nature. The power of nature to transform the way we feel can never be underestimated. Like many people, when I feel down or have a problem to solve, I go for a walk and let nature sort it out!
Alongside other treatment methods, there is a role for a low tech and preventative approach to physical and mental illnesses with nature and natural spaces at the fore. Halting the decline of wildlife and starting its recovery is good for us all.
This is why this year’s Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s Conference is focusing on the ‘Natural Health Service’. I’m delighted to welcome our speakers, all leaders in their sectors, who will inspire us through their experiences. Dr Jo Barton from the Green Exercise Research Group at the University of Essex will show us how ‘green exercise’ brings health and wellbeing benefits, especially with vulnerable groups and individuals, and helps to drive behavioural change.
Dr Caroline Jessel is co-chair of the Kent Nature Partnership, and chairs a charity providing troubled families with therapeutic programmes using the natural world.
Gavin Atkins is head of community programmes and grants for Mind. Ecominds was supported by £10 million of Big Lottery funding between 2008 and 2013, funding 130 projects. Mind is working with the University of Essex on the Natural England-commissioned review of nature based interventions in mental health.
Come and join us as we discuss ways to create a natural health service for all. BBOWT is creating a vision for wildlife and people, but this can only be delivered by working in partnership with health practitioners.
If creating a ‘natural health service’ inspires you, please come along to the conference on Saturday October 15. Visit www.bbowt.org.uk for more information.