Landscape Planning and Heritage

Case studies: Nature and Health initiatives in Hampshire


Organisation: Forest Research  Contact:

There is much discussion in government and in the media about key health issues and the costs of running the National Health Service.

In the past 15 - 20 years growing concerns have been raised about increases in obesity, type II diabetes and the sedentary lifestyles that many people are leading, as well as rates of binge drinking and smoking.The Marmot Review ‘Fair society, healthy lives’ (2010), set up by the government to explore health inequalities, importantly identifies a role for trees, woods and green space. This includes acknowledging the importance of green infrastructure for urban healthy living and encouraging physical activity for recreation and active travel. It suggests the need for investment in quality green space, particularly street trees in deprived areas, and advocates that the health system should promote contact with nature.  This is reinforced by much research over recent years that identifies the key social, physical and mental health benefits of trees, woods and green space including:
  • Long and short term physical benefits associated with obesity, life expectancy, heart rate and blood pressure
  • Attention and cognitive benefits associated with restoration, mood and self esteem
  • Physical activity benefits associated with the use of trees, woods and green space
  • Self reported benefits in terms of health and life satisfaction
  • Community cohesion benefits through social contact fostered by green space.
Research suggests four major mechanisms for explaining the relationship between green space and health:
  1. Physical action: Filtering pollutants, reducing heat or noise etc.
  2. Physical activity: Encouraging physical exercise
  3. Social support: Providing a space that promotes social interaction and inclusion, reducing social annoyances and crime
  4. Restoration: Reducing stress and restoring cognitive function and capacity to function with the demands of life.


Organisation:South Downs National Park Authority  contact:

Research shows that for every £1 spent on green exercise  the National Health Service makes a saving of £7.

Natural England and the South Downs Joint Committee have undertaken a review of the initiatives and schemes enhancing people’s health and wellbeing through contact with nature on the South Downs. The audit provides the National Park Authority and its partners with a basis for developing additional  provision where it is most needed.

The role of protected landscapes as a focus for improving health and well-being is growing - quite literally, protected landscapes can save lives. The South Downs offers an immense opportunity for physical and spiritual refreshment with 10 million people living within an hour’s travel time - resulting in 39 million visits per year. It acts as a critical green lung for the South East and provides people with unparalleled access to open countryside and huge benefits for their health and well-being.  The audit looks at initiatives and schemes that specifically link communities to health and well being through the natural environment. It builds on a similar nature and health review in Hampshire conducted by the County Council. The South Downs audit will assess the current and potential demand amongst the health, social, educational and voluntary sectors, for residents from within the park boundary and those living in the immediate catchment area.

Future work will be to encourage a range of opportunities for people to discover emotional and spiritual well-being through contact with nature.  A South Downs Health & Wellbeing steering group will assess the potential to provide a Natural Health Service to society, and guide the work of the South Downs National Park Authority and its partners.


Organisation: Hampshire Health and Wellbeing Partnership Board  contact:

'Healthier Hampshire' is the county’s first health and wellbeing strategy.  It sets out how partners will work together to make improvements to the health and wellbeing of people of all ages, living and working in Hampshire.

The Strategy has been developed through the collaborative efforts of all partners of the Health and Wellbeing Partnership Board including district and borough health and wellbeing groups, the voluntary sector, Hampshire County Council and NHS Hampshire.  Healthier Hampshire takes a holistic view of health and wellbeing by taking into account factors that increase chances of a longer disease-free life.  It considers elements that individuals have control over, such as living a healthy lifestyle, and the factors that are out of our control, requiring the whole of society to make an effort to improve – referred to as determinants of health.  Nature has a cross-cutting role in addressing the three key priority areas of 'Healthier Hampshire':
  1. to promote healthy lifestyles
  2. focus on people at risk through early intervention
  3. Healthy communities
This important role of nature in supporting health and preventing illness can be used to address health gaps and inequalities.  Hampshire’s natural environment offers a wealth of opportunities for ‘green and blue exercise’: green exercise is physical activity that takes place outdoors - from gardening, cycling and walking in urban green areas, to kite flying and conservation projects in the countryside; blue exercise takes place along the coastline and in the sea.  Both connect people to nature in their local area and are one of the most cost-effective ways of improving physical and mental wellbeing.


Organisation: Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust  contact:

Recognising the broad benefits of being active outdoors, the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust promotes opportunities for many audiences with organised events or activities.

Children can take part in regular Wildlife Watch group activities, facilitated by volunteers who also enjoy being outdoors. Over 7,000 school children visit the Trust’s three education centres each year for memorable outdoor learning experiences. Monthly toddler sessions encourage parents and children to play outdoors.  Youth volunteering projects address wide-ranging needs of young people aged 13 – 25yrs and vulnerable adults in the South West Hampshire and Basingstoke areas, providing hands-on conservation tasks in a supportive environment. Many of these young people have gone on to further training or employment as a result. In a similar vein, the Trust is now promoting Forest Schools as a way of developing children’s self- esteem and confidence through child-led outdoor activity in a woodland setting.  

For adults there are many opportunities, some more vigorous than others and often making new friends in the process – undertaking practical conservation tasks, wildlife surveys, keeping an eye on grazing animals, leading guided walks or helping with children’s activities. Short courses and workshops offer yet more opportunities for lifelong learning, on topics ranging from wildlife photography to green woodworking or identifying trees.  On top of that, the Trust manages nearly 60 wildlife reserves, most of which have open public access: the website provides maps and information on current wildlife of interest to encourage and help visitors to get out and enjoy the countryside.  Blashford Lakes is especially accessible, with several bird hides and mobility buggies for loan.


Organisation: Hampshire County Council  contact:

The New Forest Walking Group was formed to look at the provision for health walks in the New Forest.  By working in partnership the organisations involved aim to cut down on any duplication of effort and work together wherever possible.

Partners include:
  • New Forest District Council
  • New Forest National Park Authority
  • National Health Service
  • Primary Care Trust
  • SPAR
  • Natural England
  • Hampshire County Council
An action plan is due for 2010 and mapping data on the location of  health walks and other walking schemes within the New Forest will all be made available online.


Organisation: Rushmoor Healthy Living contact:

Rushmoor Healthy Living is a charity created to improve the health and well-being of people of all ages in our local community.

Natural England’s Access to Nature programme is funding RHL to set up a health walks project - Step Into Nature - for North East Hampshire residents.  The programme aims to provide participants with the opportunity to get out into the countryside and participate in healthy exercise at the same time.  With support from a wide range of local partner organisations, RHL will develop a regular series of walks in the surrounding area starting from community centres in disadvantaged areas.  The walks will offer something for people of all ages. As well as improving their health and wellbeing, walkers will be able to learn more about what the countryside has to offer them.  


Organisation: Forestry Commission

'Cycling For All' is a project using adapted bikes for people with disabilities and those returning to health after illness or injury. The partnership which developed the scheme includes CTC (the UK’s National Cyclists’ Organisation), East Hants District Council and the Forestry Commission.

Spending time outdoors in fresh air and beautiful scenery has a restorative effect on people.  Being out in nature throughout the seasons also helps us reconnect with our senses and fully appreciate the experience of cycling, without the worry of traffic or busy roads.  The project has been so successful, that its location - Alice Holt Forest - is now regarded as a national centre of excellence for cycling and is used as a model of best practice. At Alice Holt there is a fleet of adapted bikes and the scheme has now expanded to provide inclusive cycling for anyone of any age who might be lacking in confidence. A similar project has since been started at Queen Elizabeth Country Park.  Other projects led by CTC include a mobile fleet of 12 two-wheel bikes giving taster sessions to residents in rural areas; a Cycling for Health project at Alton Leisure Centre, and a pilot scheme for schools in Petersfield focusing on off-road riding for children.


Organisation: Hampshire County Council  contact:

The Adult Day Services team at Hampshire County Council run projects that enable service users to access nature in Andover and Havant, both with similar objectives.

Andover Day Services, with support from Sparsholt College, received funding to clear, design and manage an allotment for adults with learning disabilities and wheelchair users. The scheme allows service users to learn about growing different fruit and vegetables which are then used at the centre.

Three raised beds have also been put in at Havant Day Services’ sensory garden with the help of SIS funding. Adults benefit from the outdoor exercise, particularly wheelchair users and those with physical disabilities who can now tend the raised beds. These features have become part of the planting, caring and maintenance of the garden and there are plans to add bright flowers for a visual experience, herbs and scented plants, as well as vegetables, which will be used in various cooking sessions within the Day Service.



Organisation: The Conservation Volunteers  

The aim of 'School Green Gym' is to engage children in an hour a week of physical activity through activities such as gardening and nature conservation.

Green Gyms were first established in 1997 through a partnership between BTCV and Dr William Bird to provide health benefits through volunteering for nature conservation projects. To reach a wider audience, the School Green Gym project was piloted in 2008,  working with several schools from deprived areas of Leeds, Rochdale and Hampshire. Each session focuses on increasing physical activity, gaining respect for and knowledge of the natural environment, as well as boosting the self-esteem of individuals and developing confidence in their abilities.  The pilot scheme resulted in:
  1. 112 children increased their level of physical activity, grew in self-confidence and made new friends  
  2. 15% of the children involved were from black and minority ethnic groups, exceeding the target of 13%
  3. Three schools took on running the Green Gym programme, ensuring its long-term sustainability
To support a larger number of schools in establishing their own Green Gym projects, BTCV has developed a new delivery model of clustering schools to provide joint training. Several teachers, learning support assistants, governors and/or parents from each school will be trained together, along with support provided at some Green Gym sessions, to give schools the knowledge and confidence they need to get involved.


Organisation: Forestry Commission

The natural forest playground at West Walk Woodland, near Wickham, is suitable for children and young people of all ages. It is part of the Big Lottery Funded ‘It's Okay to Play’ project set up in partnership between Winchester City Council and the Forestry Commission.

Unlike traditional playgrounds, trees from the forest feature along with rocks, grassy mounds and hedges as places to hide behind or explore.  Designed to attract local families to the woods, it is free of charge and provides a way to encourage children to take an interest in the wider woodland environment.  A recent American study confirmed that natural green play settings improved children's concentration; children with ADD were found to function better than usual after playing in the natural environment and woodland settings.  

It's Okay to Play is dedicated to provide children of all ages with more opportunities for adventure, to explore risk and challenge.  It is also about giving children a hands on experience of thenatural environment, that will leave behind fond memories and a life-long love of forests and woodlands.  Play in woodlands and natural green spaces also promotes health and wellbeing, knowledge and understanding, creativity and capacity to learn.  As part of the project, natural and sustainable play sites are being introduced to woodland areas around the district, increasing the overall play offer available for all children and young people.


Organisation: Hampshire County Council  contact:

The benefits of safe and manageable natural habitat areas, providing natural play and learning, have long been acknowledged in school design.

This comes from clear recognition of their benefits in reducing levels of stress, having positive effects on pupil behaviour, and their value in enhancing pupils’ desire and capacity to learn.  Within the County Council’s Property Services Landscape Group, designers have been working on projects which support health and wellbeing, through the sensitive design of school grounds.

In Hedge End the group worked with staff and children at Kings Copse Primary School to successfully retain and enhance the well established (if rather neglected), natural environment. The woodland and wetland habitats were developed to ensure the preservation of a rich variety of wildlife - deer, badgers and foxes - which all remain on site. This has resulted in a natural area that supports learning and provides therapeutic value. Since the project has been completed the school have added growing areas and set up webcams to monitor wildlife activity, including badgers at dusk.The area also functions as a retreat space, where children can take a break from the active bustle of the main playground, or engage in quieter and more subtle forms of play. All areas are fully accessible for visually impaired children, with easily navigable footpath routes, tactile furniture, interpretation panels and a set of outdoor musical instruments.


Organisation: Minstead Study Centre  contact:

Some things mark a daytrip or residential experience that will remain memories for a lifetime. Some experiences mould, shape and influence. The Minstead Study Centre in the New Forest is where such memories are created.

The experience given to children through a well thought out framework or storyline can empower them and encourage reflection. This can foster responsible behaviour by informing, giving calls to action, and allowing practice in decision making, team-work and being part of a community.  Effective behaviour change is not always easy to measure, but chances are if it feels right and good, then it will make a difference.


Organisation: Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership (BVCP)  Contact:

There is a way to get fit without joining a gym – by signing up to become a conservation volunteer.

The Blackwater Valley Conservation Group have been around since 1984, carrying out all kinds of wildlife improving tasks on the borders of North-East Hampshire with Berkshire and Surrey.  The group help to maintain green and open spaces in the area as well as the 23 mile long Blackwater Valley footpath.  Volunteering does not have to be too physically demanding as everyone works at their own pace. No experience is necessary as there is always a task leader on hand.  There are no age barriers and the volunteers range from teenagers wanting to get some practical experience to the newly retired - several members have been coming out regularly for over 16 years! The advantages of volunteering are that there are no gym membership fees, it’s a highly sociable activity and volunteers play an important role in looking after the local countryside.


Organisation: Hart Voluntary Action  contact:

One in four people in England and Wales will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives and there are few treatment options immediately available.  Ecotherapy is a natural, free and accessible treatment that boosts mental wellbeing. Gardening is one of the best examples.

Hart Voluntary Action (HVA) has become increasingly aware of the large number of older residents who find it ever more difficult to manage their gardens.  It is often beyond an older person’s physical ability but the alternative, paying for garden services, can be way beyond their means.  Led by Minding the Garden’s horticulturalist, and supported by gardening mentors, volunteers visit the gardens of Hart’s older people to perform gardening tasks. The project provides opportunities for adults with mental distress or learning difficulties to develop the confidence and skills to help them back to the workplace. The garden provides a safe, friendly environment for volunteers to find their feet and progress towards other volunteer roles, and in some instances, paid employment.  All whilst reaping the benefits of outdoor activity.  A grant from the Big Lottery and Ecominds, has enabled the project to extend from its current one-day-a-week operation to three days, allowing 60 more gardens to enter the programme and offering supported volunteer opportunities to a further 60 Hart residents.
'Minding the Gardening' Child playing in leaves Nature conservation volunteering