Wildlife volunteering boosts mental health, finds report

Volunteering on wildlife projects and greater exposure to nature could boost mental health, according to a new report – with advocates suggesting time spent in nature could reduce NHS burden.

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Published today (2 October), the study The Health and Wellbeing Impacts of Volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts was the third phase of scientific research carried out by the University of Essex for The Wildlife Trusts.

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The study analysed data from 139 participants over a 12-week period to assess changes in participants’ attitudes, behaviour and mental wellbeing as they took part in nature conservation volunteering activities. Most of the participants were taking part in wildlife projects after being referred by a health professional because of a health or social need.

At the start of the project, the majority (95%) of participants reported poor levels of mental health, however just six weeks into the scheme, two-thirds of volunteers reported significantly enhanced feelings of positivity. “I feel more connected to nature and my environment and have developed interests in this area,” said one volunteer.

Participant’s general health was also found to have improved through higher exposure to nature and higher levels of physical activity.

The analysis concluded that improvements were greatest for people new to volunteering and those who had poor levels of mental health at the start, but said anyone could benefit from increased time volunteering in nature.

Dominic Higgins, Nature and Wellbeing Manager at The Wildlife Trusts said: “The results of this structured research project make a powerful case for nature having a larger role in people’s every-day lives. The evidence is loud and clear – volunteering in wild places while being supported by Wildlife Trust staff 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.”

He added: “The Department of Health should take note – our findings could help reduce the current burden on the National Health Service because they illustrate a new model of caring for people that does not rely solely on medication and traditional services.”

Dr Mike Rogerson, University of Essex, said: “The research revealed how volunteering with meaningful, nature and craft-focussed activities may be beneficial to both the general public and individuals with defined needs.  More specifically, we found that attendance to Wildlife Trust projects was associated with improvements in 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.”

Read the full report here

Here are 12 ways to get more nature into your day

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