Nature prescriptions helping hundreds of patients in Edinburgh

Kirsty Nutt

Monday 17 January 2022

Lady looking up at a tree and reaching to touch a leaf

The results of a trial where healthcare professionals at five GP practices in Edinburgh prescribed nature reveal that 87% of patients will continue to use nature to help their health and wellbeing and 91% of prescribers will prescribe it

A new report, launched today, details the findings of the Nature Prescriptions Edinburgh trial. It reveals that nearly 350 patients were prescribed nature as part of treatment for 32 different health conditions and demonstrates why nature should be part of every healthcare professional’s toolkit in the future. RSPB Scotland is now looking to find funding and further partners to support extending the delivery of this promising initiative across Scotland.

The trial was part of a collaboration between RSPB Scotland, Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation (the official charity of NHS Lothian) and local GPs. It aimed to investigate whether Nature Prescriptions, an idea created in Shetland in 2017 and well received there, could work in an urban environment, and to explore the potential for extending it throughout Scotland.

During the pilot, 50 healthcare professionals across the five practices prescribed nature to their patients as part of their treatment. Nature was prescribed for 32 different health conditions across all age groups. Most of the 335 recorded prescriptions (69%) were given to support mental health conditions, with anxiety and depression the two most cited reasons, 17% were for physical health (mostly obesity and diabetes) and 10% for both.  

Nearly three-quarters of patients who provided feedback said they had benefited from their Nature Prescription, with most continuing to connect with nature each week, and 87% of them said it was likely or very likely that they would continue using it. The main reasons for liking the formal prescription were that it gave patients the permission and motivation to engage with nature, it was a drug-free safe alternative and they thought it was working.

Spending time in natural environments and exercising outdoors can, in itself, be beneficial for wellbeing, but Nature Prescriptions involves more than simply being outdoors. It’s about connecting with nature in ways that are personal, emotional and meaningful. For example, some of the activities suggested in the Edinburgh Calendar included: tuning in to the changing seasons, listening to nearby birdsong, getting to know a neighbourhood tree and helping local wildlife thrive.

It was this deeper emotional connection and the sensory elements that most patients said they had most enjoyed and most benefited from during the pilot. Nearly 60% felt their awareness of nature had increased and 55% were more connected with nature than before.

Before the pilot, fewer than 40% of the GPs at the five practices involved were talking to their patients about the benefits of nature and then mostly in the form of outdoor exercise. After the pilot, 87% were prescribing nature with more saying they would start to in future; everyone who had prescribed nature said they would continue.  

The report outlines that a prescriber’s – such as a GP’s – own connection to nature appears to be key for their own wellbeing and a determinant of their likelihood of prescribing to patients. It concludes that supporting prescribers to connect to nature themselves and providing tools like those offered in the pilot is likely to increase patient prescriptions and deliver associated benefits to patients. 

For more detail on what was learned from the pilot or how to support and get involved in the next stage of Nature Prescriptions, people can attend a webinar at 1 pm on Thursday 20 January. To register or find out more go to https://rspb.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_1cPigNr9SBuqkmI7t1mo1w.

Ian Mackenzie, Green Health Programme Manager for Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation said: “In urban areas such as Edinburgh, we often overlook the nature on our doorsteps and this has been a great way for people to explore how nature can make us both healthier and happier. We are delighted to have worked in partnership with RSPB Scotland and GP practices across Edinburgh on the Nature Prescriptions pilot and are so pleased to see that it has resulted in more people connecting with nature and experiencing the benefits that this brings.

“Improving the health and wellbeing of people and communities across Edinburgh and the Lothians is at the heart of everything we do at the Foundation. This is a great example of how we can support and deliver a range of projects that unlock the potential of greenspace and green health activities in improving our health and wellbeing.”

Dr Rachel Harrison, a GP at Mill Lane, said: “I have loved using the nature Prescription handouts. They are a great way to open a discussion about self-care including more time and exercise in natural environments and the benefits of this. Thank you for this delightful project, it is great to have something other than medication to offer patients presenting with a wide range of conditions such as diabetes, chronic pain, eating disorders, insomnia and anxiety.”

Dr Katarina Forsyth, a GP at Inchpark Surgery, said: “I have really enjoyed sharing the Nature Prescribing materials. They are a really valuable, drug-free tool and the Edinburgh-specific details and local greenspace maps are particularly helpful in taking the first step to connecting with nature. Many patients are already familiar with the concepts of eg “forest bathing” but are surprised when they realise how long it is since they spent time and really connected with the natural world”.

Dr Madeleine Housden from East Craigs Medical Centre said: “Prescribing nature to patients gives fantastic benefits for both physical health and mental well-being. As a GP using this resource for patients has been hugely rewarding. Patients can start the prescription straightaway, nature is on our doorstep and the whole family can get involved and see the benefits! It’s certainly a tool I’ll be using in my future practice.” 

Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland said: “We have never been more aware of the importance of nature to our health and wellbeing, so I am delighted that we are able to offer evidence of the value of Nature Prescriptions to both patients and healthcare professionals.

RSPB Scotland is promoting this initiative because we recognise that for nature to thrive it requires people to access it, enjoy it, value it and therefore want to look after it. I hope we will be able to learn from this report and take it forward into greater expansion and uptake. Our long-term vision is that nature becomes part of the toolkit of every health professional in Scotland.”

Karl Stevens, Head of Engagement for RSPB Scotland, said: “It has been an absolute pleasure for us to work with such dedicated and inspiring healthcare professionals during this pilot. The perseverance of prescribers in delivering the Nature Prescriptions pilot despite unprecedented demands, and the positive responses of those who received them, have been hugely humbling and demonstrate the enormous value of Nature Prescriptions in supporting health and encouraging positive relationships with nature”.

You read the full report here or find out more at rspb.org.uk/natureprescriptions

Ends

For further information, and to arrange an interview with an RSPB Scotland spokesperson or one of the GPs, please contact:

Kirsty Nutt, Communications Manager on 07711 385595 or kirsty.nutt@rspb.org.uk.

 

For any enquiries relating to Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation contact:

Diane Ellis, Communications and Marketing Manager on 07890 388759.

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