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3 May 2023

Natural health service

Ross Brannigan, the Trust’s Membership Officer, explores the growing practice of Green Prescriptions – a form of social prescribing that sees patients treated through interaction with nature rather than medication.

Boots and Beards on Nevis path 3

The value of exploring wild places for personal health and wellbeing is something that people are increasingly familiar with. Whether alone or with others, and be it physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, time spent outdoors in nature can be immensely powerful.

As Wild and Well - a Trust campaign that celebrates the connection between wild places and people’s health - demonstrates, the real-terms value of engaging with nature has become very clear. According to a joint report funded by the Forestry Commission, Scottish Forestry and the Welsh Government, exploring woodlands alone could help save £185 million in costs associated with mental health illnesses.

In recent years, this understanding has made its way into doctors’ surgeries, with time in nature now being prescribed as part of treatment for physical and mental ill-health.

'Green Prescriptions' is a simple enough concept. General Practitioners (GPs) assess patients as they normally would but rather than being prescribed medication, patients instead receive a referral to a local service, which guides them through opportunities to connect with nature and address their conditions.

Following a successful initial trial in Edinburgh and Shetland, Green Prescriptions has since started to be rolled out in a second trial in Derbyshire. Tom Miller, a GP in Buxton, cited growing evidence that enjoying time outdoors is good for our health in a recent interview with the BBC, describing Green Prescriptions as “an ingenious, simple and cost-effective way to support people to do just that”.

This year, the Trust has set aside funds to investigate the potential opportunities for Green Prescriptions near its properties. There is a particular focus on northwest Scotland, where mental health can be heavily impacted by shorter days and social isolation.

It’s a problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic and resulting lockdowns, explains Sarah Donald, a GP at the Assynt Medical Practice, Lochinver. “In recent years, people have become demotivated and many have lost confidence in accessing the outdoors in a way that we’ve never seen before,” she says.

“People with physical health issues – such as long Covid, respiratory diseases and mobility issues – can become anxious about accessing the outdoors for their health, out of concern they cannot do it alone or just fear of being stranded somewhere.”

Currently, there is no funding in areas like Assynt to implement what is termed “social prescribing” schemes, as it is allocated based on levels of deprivation. Using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, the areas of greater deprivation are primarily cities, with more rural areas neglected.

Sarah hopes, however, that more funding can be made available to allow her practice and others like it to trial a Green Prescriptions system and demonstrate the benefits it can bring to the community.

“Green Prescriptions is just another way of giving people additional support,” she says. “We need more of these opportunities to enable people to enjoy the benefits of wild places and, hopefully, gain the confidence to explore them themselves in the future.”

Photograph shows Boots & Beards (pictured here
on Ben Nevis) an organisation that
works with diverse communities to build bridges into nature and wellbeing.