Improving access to nature - a cost-effective way of tackling health issues?

12th October 2017

There is a growing focus on the economic case for putting more resources into preventative healthcare, to reduce future demand on NHS services. At the same time, awareness of the benefits to people's physical and mental health of spending time in nature is increasing rapidly.

In March, a Valuing Nature Programme event organised by the Ecosystems Knowledge Network in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare brought together 40 senior health professionals, providers of natural outdoor spaces and environmental economists. They discussed methods for demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of tackling local public health priorities through increasing access to the natural outdoors. Some case studies were examined, including the Connswater Community Greenway in Belfast, a 9km linear park which includes paths and cycle trails. An economic evaluation of the Greenway shows that investment in environmental infrastructure in an urban area can produce cost-effective health outcomes for the local population. 

The event report has now been published. It lists some next steps, which include a recommendation that local environmental organisations could join up with health sector bodies to run pilot projects which would demonstrate how cost-effectiveness analysis can be integrated into broader economic valuations of environmental assets like nature reserves and urban greenspace.