RSPB Nature Prescriptions

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There is a wide range of research supporting how connecting to nature reduces anxiety and depression, increases our feelings of joy and happiness, improves our ability to cope with stress and helps us to feel more satisfied with life. There is also growing evidence showing how nature is both beneficial on our mental health and is also an important protective factor. Whether you’re listening to birds from your window or crunching through frosty leaves in winter, you’ll know that nature has the power to boost our health, happiness and wellbeing.

RSPB Nature Prescriptions were developed to support people to improve their wellbeing through a stronger connection to nature and to encourage them to care for and protect nature. RSPB Nature Prescriptions are about connecting to nature in a personal and meaningful way based on the knowledge that what you do in nature is more important than how long you spend in nature.

Female Curlew standing in tall grass
Female Curlew (Ian Francis)

What is an RSPB Nature Prescription

An RSPB Nature Prescription is a guided conversation between a GP or other healthcare professional and their patient/client to encourage and support them to connect with the natural world to benefit their mental and physical wellbeing.

Complementing other health interventions, this conversation is supported by a prescription leaflet and a seasonal calendar of ideas and suggestions to enable people to explore ways of connecting to nature that are personal and meaningful to them.

An RSPB Nature Prescription is a free to use non-medical approach based on accessible, self-led activities that people can do from anywhere, on their own or with others. It aims to cultivate lasting connections with nature that inspire a desire to nurture and act to protect it.

RSPB Nature Prescription Pilots in Scotland

Nature Prescriptions began in the Shetland Isles in 2017 and their success saw a great deal of media attention and interest from health care professionals and green health providers. However, the success of the project was largely based on anecdotal evidence from both GPs and patients, and more thorough research was needed to investigate both the benefits and process of prescribing nature.

RSPB Scotland was also interested to learn if Nature Prescriptions could be delivered in an urban context and to explore the potential for offering them more widely. Therefore, in September 2019, work began on an urban pilot of Nature Prescriptions in Edinburgh.

The findings from the Edinburgh pilot were really positive including:

  • 74% of patients felt that they benefitted from the Nature Prescription
  • 87% of patients felt that GPs should be able to prescribe nature for health
  • 87% of patients considered it very likely or likely that they will continue with Nature Prescriptions or similar nature activities
  • 91% of prescribers stated that they are likely to use Nature Prescriptions over the coming year (post pilot)

As well as reporting data GPs and patients talked about their experiences of using RSPB Nature Prescriptions

“I’ve been reminded of all that nature has to offer. I share my love of nature with friends and I’ve noticed how it has benefitted them as well. This prescription has shone a light on something that brings me a lot of joy and that’s always there no matter what. Being connected with nature calms me and makes me feel grounded. It gives me perspective and lifts my heart. Thank you so much for this inspired service. Absolutely brilliant!” - Patient

“Nature has no side effects, it’s easily accessible and available and has multiple benefits, not just to mental health but to physical health as well. I think even for us as health professionals, Nature Prescriptions has made us realize how valuable this is, how beneficial this is, how under used and how much we should be promoting it over and above medication.” GP

The experiences of patients who followed an RSPB Nature Prescription also provide valuable insights into the impact that this form of intervention can have on participants’ attitudes toward nature. Increased awareness of nature should inspire stronger connections with it and this, in turn, has the potential to transform behaviour towards nature in ways that help to establish a reciprocal relationship. When asked whether their awareness of nature had changed since receiving their prescription, 56% of participants felt that it had increased.

RSPB Calendar for January and February

Some people felt inspired to go on to take direct action to help protect nature:

  • “I have volunteered to help at COP26. I plan to buy a litter picker.”
  • “I now volunteer in a garden once a week.”

You can read the full report on the Edinburgh pilot here.  

Moving RSPB Nature Prescriptions to England

Building on the success of the pilots in Scotland, the RSPB is now working with partners to deliver Nature Prescriptions in England starting in the High Peak area of Derbyshire.

We are working collaboratively with the High Peak and Glossopdale Primary Care Networks, the Peak District National Park Authority and the social prescribing teams at the High Peak CVS (Community and Voluntary Support) and The Bureau.

Social prescribing link workers assist people to explore ‘what matters to them’ and take a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. Link workers give people time and help to research solutions to problems that they identify. They connect people to local partners, self-help and community groups for practical, social, physical and emotional support. Nature Prescriptions sit well with this way of working and from January 2023 people who access social prescribing services in the High Peak are being offered an RSPB Nature Prescription as part of a conversation about their wellbeing.

Working with our partners, we have pooled our resources, skills and knowledge to develop RSPB Nature Prescriptions specifically for the people living in High Peak, based on latest research on nature connection. The materials include a prescription leaflet that explains why RSPB Nature Prescriptions are being offered and the benefits, and a calendar of suggested ways to connect to nature which is evidence based and tailored to the local area. We provided a training session to ensure the Social Prescribing Link Workers felt confident talking to their clients about RSPB Nature Prescriptions and the benefits of connecting to nature.

With our partners we are trying to ensure the calendar is accessible to as many people as possible so many of the suggested ways to connect to nature in the calendar can be done from inside for example, it could be to look for the first star in the night sky or to open your window and listen for the sounds of nature. You could step outside to feel the wind in your face or you could watch the different types of clouds moving across the sky. We have also included some suggestions for going further afield such as following one of the Miles without Stiles routes through the Peak District National Park.

Bumble bee on a flower
Bee (Grahame Madge)

People can choose to try the suggested nature connection at a time to suit them, doing them as often and for as long as they like. People don’t need to join organised groups, and the suggestions can be done alone or with others. The nature connections mostly don’t involve any travel or any cost but are not simply about going outside, they are about really noticing and engaging with nature.

As well as receiving referrals from 13 GP practices, the social prescribing services receive referrals from adult social care, community mental health teams, and the Derbyshire Live Life Better team. We hope that through these routes we can reach many more people.

Where next for RSPB Nature Prescriptions

With funding and support, Nature Prescriptions could be part of the toolkit for all healthcare professionals across the UK, providing benefits for them, their patients and for nature.

As nature helps us to heal, the connection we build can deepen our care and concern for nature. It’s a two-way relationship that benefits all.

If you would like to know more, please see our website here Nature Prescriptions | The RSPB

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Posted On: 06/03/2023

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