We recently launched our latest natural capital report, which was presented at the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership‘s Annual Forum, and provided new evidence that nature-based prescribing could result in savings for the NHS and improved water quality for all.

We were commissioned by the Environment Agency to develop an evaluation framework for collecting primary research results to see if we could find evidence of the value of nature-based prescribing – whether in benefits to health and wellbeing, or in raising awareness of water pollution.

To deliver the framework, we identified and facilitated relationships with relevant stakeholders including South Gloucestershire Council, Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, and Bristol Avon Rivers Trust. Working closely with these organisations, we put together a six-week programme called River Remedies: Improving Wellbeing through Nature which offered vulnerable adults and teenagers the chance to engage with nature at sites on the Bristol Frome River.

Participants were invited to sessions made up of a variety of activities including looking at river samples, testing for phosphates and nitrates, litter picking and yellow fish campaigning. Wellbeing scores and pollution awareness levels were recorded before and after the sessions, and although it’s unlikely researchers will be able to estimate NHS savings until South Gloucestershire has tracked whether GP and secondary medical visits decline over time, or if there is a reduction of medication used, the accompanying project report shows the small sample size indicated positive wellbeing following activities, and a potential crisis was averted thanks to early intervention with a participating individual. An increased awareness and understanding of issues relating to water pollution was also recorded.

Our project partners Bristol Avon Rivers Trust co-ordinated river access and risk assessments whilst the public health team from South Gloucestershire Council sourced participants likely to benefit from taking part.

David Baxter, Head of Natural Economy at Eunomia and Project Director said:

“I believe projects on rivers should be part of a portfolio of social prescriptions available for everyone, particularly those who are dealing with issues of depression, anxiety or isolation. They are suitable for all ages but, as mental health is a growing problem for young people, it is worth noting that they are a particularly accessible and relevant therapy for teenagers.

“Rivers Trusts exist in every part of England. I would encourage them to consider the learning we developed in this programme to develop their own offering. There is no need to feel daunted by questions around health and safety or risk assessments, if you find the right partners amongst public health professionals they’ll look after these things for you.”

“Programmes like this are also a great way for water companies to engage with communities, look after their customers, and if less pharmaceuticals are being prescribed as a result of improved health and wellbeing, there will be less risk to water supplies and less investment needed to clean it up. I hope to see more partnerships like this in the future.”

Damian Crilly, Manager of Strategic Catchment Partnerships at the Environment Agency said:

The 25 Year Environment Plan promotes the use of the natural environment as a resource for good health and wellbeing, including through nature based social prescribing. Our overall aim for the project was to contribute to the evidence base on the benefits of nature based social prescribing and to show the practicalities that could be followed by catchment partnerships. This study has provided valuable, practical insight into the delivery of a social prescription on connecting people with nature. It found that river based remedies, a kind of nature based social prescription, has a positive effect in terms of increased engagement with the river, it helped manage mental health risks and improved wellbeing.”

Picture via Flickr, Chris By The River, CC BY-SA 2.0.