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CSH Nature Recovery Rangers at the NHS

Logo: Centre for Sustainable Healthcare

By Athene Reiss, Green Space for Health Partnerships Project Manager

Bristol City Parks and Southmead Hospital volunteers on the allotment (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare)
Bristol City Parks and Southmead Hospital volunteers on the allotment (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare)

In April 2021, three ‘Nature Recovery Rangers’ were embedded at NHS trusts in Liverpool, London and Bristol by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH). These rangers embody the seed of an idea that could transform the management and use of green spaces on healthcare sites in the UK and further afield.

Logo: NHS Forest

CSH seeks innovative ways to reduce the environmental and carbon impacts of healthcare. Its ‘NHS Forest’ project was established in 2009 to take that innovative approach into green spaces. The NHS Forest is a national network of woodland and other green and blue spaces where nature and people can thrive. Last spring, we launched the Nature Recovery Rangers programme to facilitate a sustained and deep approach to that work at the chosen NHS sites.

At the time, we weren’t sure exactly what the work of the rangers would look like on the ground. Nine months later, we can see that it looks like many varied improvements to green and blue spaces and a wide range of engagement with them by patients and staff. It looks like wellbeing enhancements for nature and people developing side by side. It also looks different at each of the three sites, and we know now that there is no one description of a Nature Recovery Ranger.

The ranger role does have certain key characteristics, however. Our rangers all work full time and are contracted and paid by CSH, with an additional, honorary, contract at their base NHS trust. They work closely with a relevant team (sustainability, outreach or, potentially, estates) with the guidance of a named Green Space Contact, who is key to setting up the arrangement with CSH. The posts were initially set up for one year as part of a larger NHS Forest project funded by the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund.1 CSH is seeking ways to extend their contracts and to find new NHS partners for additional rangers. The long-term ambition is that rangers will become essential, and permanent, members of their NHS trusts. We would also love to see this model adopted by other non-environmental sector institutions, such as schools and corporations, to bring wellbeing and nature recovery to the places where people spend much of their time.

Our rangers come with substantial experience in the environmental sector. Although this takes different forms, they all come with a background that combines expertise in ecology and people engagement. The roles present them with the challenge of how to apply this experience in an NHS hospital setting. Phoebe Webster, our Bristol Ranger, describes working at Southmead Hospital, a modern building with existing substantial amounts of green space both inside and outside:

No Mow May signs and flowers in Liverpool (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare)
No Mow May signs and flowers in Liverpool (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare)

“North Bristol NHS Trust has an amazing focus on staff wellbeing, with this in mind I have really been able to connect with a wide variety of teams across the trust, focusing on the wellbeing opportunities available and tailoring what I do to bring as much to staff, patients and the community as possible. The grounds at North Bristol NHS Trust had so much done to them already through the enthusiasm of the trust’s Sustainable Development Unit that it has allowed me to focus on things such as the Biodiversity Action Plan, a monthly Nature Recovery Newsletter and different ways of teaching and engaging staff. Even though learning how a big NHS organisation works has been daunting at times, we have still made so much progress in this short amount of time and continue to plan into the future with really inspiring teams of people.”

Fiona Megarrell works across two NHS trusts on four Liverpool hospital sites, including Aintree Hospital which has its own small bluebell wood. She values the opportunities that such large green spaces offer for larger scale projects.

“I work on the ongoing maintenance and restoration of the hospital-owned woodland as well as the complete replanting of two big courtyards, one for staff and the other for patients within a mental health department. It gives me the chance to work across multiple trusts therefore reaching a wide range of people to educate on conservation issues and offer positive change to the immediate environment.”

Television garden presenter Kim Wilde spreading wildflower seed at Mt Vernon with hospital staff (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare)
Television garden presenter Kim Wilde spreading wildflower seed at Mt Vernon with hospital staff (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare)

Different again, is the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, where ranger Karen MacKelvie works, and which has a long history of using green spaces for health. As she puts it:

“Mount Vernon Cancer Centre has a unique atmosphere and is a fantastically fun place to be a Nature Recovery Ranger. The oldest building started life as a sanatorium for patients with TB and other diseases of the lungs, so patients were regularly encouraged to go outside for fresh air treatments. The hundred-year-old lawn and listed buildings are nestled into pockets of ancient woodland, where veteran oaks lounge and mature yew and eucalyptus don't look out of place. You can imagine, in its heyday, the tropical plants growing in the ‘orangeries’ and a vintage being bottled from the grape vine growing near [what is now] Nuclear Medicine.”

At all three sites, we have also been able to bring on board less experienced, aspiring rangers. Like the work of the Nature Recovery Rangers themselves, this has taken different forms in different places. In Liverpool, we have a three-day-a-week apprentice funded by the Government’s Kickstart scheme, which creates jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds at risk of long-term unemployment. Our London ranger has two healthcare students from a local college working with her one day a week, while Bristol’s ranger has two environmental sector interns working three days a week each, who are massively increasing productivity while they develop their skills. Daisy Tickner says of her internship:

NHS Forest staff members survey on a site visit (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare)
NHS Forest staff members survey on a site visit (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare)

“This internship is an invaluable incubation period and context for me to explore how my previous and varied experience can combine in a meaningful way, to propel me towards an emerging career in the field of therapeutic horticulture and outdoor education. It has provided me with unprecedented access to key trainings and opportunities to gain practical experience in areas that I was previously lacking, which will leave me well-resourced and able to move forward with confidence in myself and my chosen path.”

All the posts are paid though, like the rangers, short term. However, we hope that the experiences we are giving these student and apprentice rangers will help them find employment either in countryside work or in the healthcare sector. Either way, we hope they will apply their understanding of the health benefits of nature to their future roles.

Logo: Green Recovery Challenge Fund

In just nine months we have seen significant benefits to ecological and individual wellbeing across all our sites. As an example, all three rangers persuaded their groundskeeping colleagues to implement Plantlife’s No Mow May initiative, which resulted in a significant increase in wildflowers across our sites, a welcome development that they are boosting with extensive amounts of wildflower seeding and planting. The marsh orchids that bloomed unexpectedly at Aintree Hospital brought joy to staff, patients and visitors. We look forward to many more rangers bringing much more recovery to nature and people alike.

To find out more about CSH’s Nature Recovery Rangers, visit our website to view our ranger video. To hear about ranger job opportunities, sign up to our newsletter or keep your eye on CJS.

Footnote

1 The Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund was developed by Defra and its Arm's-Length Bodies. It is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

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