The BlueHealth Project: Protecting and improving our natural environments and our health: a win-win?
The BlueHealth Project
Beyond Greenspace (Ben Wheeler), European Centre for Environment and Human Health.
- Spending 120 minutes or more in nature per week may have positive health benefits, including lower mortality, positive pregnancy and birth outcomes, and better mental health.
- Looking after our natural environments is important for societal health and well-being. This includes improved environmental quality.
- Nature needs to be accessible to all of our communities, and there needs to be opportunities to engage in pleasurable outdoor activities.
- This project has developed guidelines for making nature a sensory experience for visually impaired people.
A key thread of research at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health is to study the benefits to health and wellbeing of interacting with our natural environments, from parks to woodlands to beaches. These health benefits can arise by providing us with opportunities to be physically active (such as walks in the park), or through the chance to get some rest, relaxation and de-stress (maybe by sitting on a bench by the sea), or a wide range of other health-promoting activities. Even just being able to see trees and plants from your window may be beneficial.
Some of our key findings have included adding to the existing evidence on ‘green space’ by looking specifically at ‘blue space’ health benefits (e.g. this study on living near the coast in England or the EU-funded BlueHealth project). In 2019 we published a study suggesting that spending 120 minutes or more in nature per week might be a ‘threshold’ for gaining health benefits. Other work has importantly flagged up how any benefits of nature for health might be experienced differently by different people, such as the Sensing Nature study on visual impairment and the natural environment. With our collaborators in the UK and internationally we’ve published over 100 scientific papers on these topics since 2010.
In common with much of the research at the European Centre, many of these studies have been collaborative with partners in Cornwall and beyond from local and national government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector. In recognition of this, in 2019 the Centre was made the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre on Natural Environments and Health.
Here in Cornwall we’ve been working to make the research relevant and useful to our local population, and the environment we live in and share with our many visitors who come to appreciate it. One example of this has been our work with Cornwall Council and the University of Exeter ESI, on Biodiversity, Health and Wellbeing in Cornwall’s Public Open Space. We’ve been using our research and collaborating on new projects to help inform how Cornwall’s public open spaces are managed and invested in for biodiversity and health gain.
In another project, we are working with partners in Cornwall and other areas in the region in a project under the South West Partnership for Environmental and Economic Prosperity (SWEEP). We’re working together to develop our understanding of how we can support and encourage investment in the natural environment that has benefits for health and wellbeing.
Clearly our natural environments are fragile and under a lot of pressure, so we need to be careful not to damage them in the process of gaining health benefits. The aim here is to develop research and collaborate with our partners in Cornwall and beyond to try to get the win-win of benefits for both the environment and people’s health and wellbeing.