Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature

This project is funded as part of the Human Health & Wellbeing Goal of the Valuing Nature Programme.

Website: http://iwun.uk/

Principal Investigator

  • Dr A Jorgensen, University of Sheffield, Landscape Architecture

Co-Investigators

  • Professor J Henneberry - University of Sheffield, Urban Studies and Planning
  • Dr P Shackley - University of Sheffield, Health and Related Research
  • Dr M Richardson - University of Derby, College of Life & Natural Sciences
  • Dr K McEwan - University of Derby, College of Life & Natural Sciences
  • Dr N Dempsey - University of Sheffield, Landscape Architecture
  • Ms C Rishbeth - University of Sheffield, Landscape Architecture
  • Professor B Stone - University of Sheffield, Sch of English Lit, Lang and Linguistics
  • Dr S R Payne - Heriot-Watt University, Sch of the Built Environment
  • Dr R Maheswaran - University of Sheffield, Health and Related Research
  • Dr R W F Cameron - University of Sheffield, Landscape Architecture
  • Professor D Sheffield - University of Derby, College of Life & Natural Sciences
  • Dr K Thwaites - University of Sheffield, Landscape Architecture
  • Dr A Carusi - University of Sheffield, Infection Immunity & Cardiovasc Disease

Project Summary

There is considerable evidence that a healthy natural environment - particularly where people live - and regular access to it, can contribute positively to the health and wellbeing of the population, and that it has the most benefit on those with the highest levels of ill-health. As society looks for cost effective ways to boost mental and physical health and quality of life, it is clear that increased positive interaction between people and the natural environment could be a significant part of the UK's future health care arrangements.

However, this potential is not yet being fulfilled - in part because we do not fully understand how and why people interact with the natural environment, and which aspects of the environment, and people's experience of it, lead to positive health and wellbeing outcomes. Does the biodiversity of a place affect people's health and wellbeing? Why are some sections of society, on whom natural environments could have the greatest positive impact, less likely than average to visit natural places? What part does experience of and connection to nature play? What role does access to a high quality natural environment have in the health and wellbeing of people at particularly significant stages in their lives (when they are most vulnerable to ill-health)?

If we understood the physical, psychological and socio-economic reasons why members of black, asian and minority ethnic communities, the elderly, disadvantaged urban residents, and those from lower socio-economic groups (in particular) interact with the natural environment as they do - and how this changes through their lives - it would enable us to design and manage our urban spaces more effectively to generate health and wellbeing benefits, and to engage critically important sections of society more effectively, to great social and economic benefit.

This project will study the interaction within one large city between people, their local natural environment and their health and wellbeing. It aims to:

  1. Understand at a detailed level how the health and wellbeing of the people within different neighbourhoods relates to the quantity, quality and distribution of natural greenspaces where they live;
  2. Investigate the role that culture, upbringing, social values and norms play in this;
  3. Explore how people from different ethnic and socio-economic groups interact with greenspaces and how this affects their connectedness to nature, and mental health and wellbeing;
  4. Discover how the biodiversity value of the places that people visit affects their mental health and wellbeing;
  5. Develop a way to assess the economic implications of these insights;
  6. Develop effective ways to feed this knowledge into the policy, delivery and investment decisions of politicians, planners, designers, developers, land managers, public health commissioners and other professionals, business leaders and relevant voluntary and community organisations.

It will:

  1. Explore the relationship between urban natural environments and health and wellbeing across the whole of Sheffield - focusing especially on mental health and using more detailed datasets than those used in previous research;
  2. Explore how urban residents from diverse backgrounds (especially differentiated by age, gender, ethnicity and mental health service use) communicate their own stories and values relating to contact and connectedness with nature;
  3. Use an innovative smartphone App to record the interactions of a large population sample with Sheffield's natural environment, and its relationship to their nature connectedness and personal wellbeing;
  4. Quantify the biodiversity value of different parts of Sheffield's environment and identify the relationship between this and the nature connectedness and personal wellbeing of people experiencing them;
  5. Identify the economic, practical and policy implications of these insights, and effective ways of applying them.