New report links benefits of volunteering in nature with mental health

Thursday 5th October 2017

Volunteers at GWT's Daneway Banks nature reserveVolunteers at GWT's Daneway Banks nature reserve

A new report by The Wildlife Trusts examining the effects of volunteering in nature on people's mental health, involving volunteers from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and four other Wildlife Trusts, has been published.

The study, carried out by the University of Essex, was conducted between February 2016 and February 2017 and featured participants from GWT’s Lower Woods nature reserve and Stroud Volunteers Conservation Group.

The Health and Wellbeing Impacts of Volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts report found:

  • 95% of participants who were identified as having poor levels of mental health at the start, reported an improvement in six weeks, which increased further over 12 weeks
  • The mental wellbeing of more than two-thirds (69%) of all participants had improved after just six weeks
  • Improvements were greatest for people new to volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts and those who had poor levels of mental health at the start
  • Participants also reported significantly enhanced feelings of positivity, increased general health and pro-environmental behaviour, higher levels of physical activity and more contact with greenspace

The report was the third phase of scientific research carried out on top of two earlier reports. It assessed changes in 139 participants’ attitudes, behaviour and mental wellbeing over the course of 12 weeks when they took part in conservation volunteering activities.

Dominic Higgins, Nature and Wellbeing Manager at The Wildlife Trusts says: “The results of this structured research project make a powerful case for nature having a larger role in people’s every-day lives. The evidence is Volunteers at Old London Roadloud and clear – volunteering in wild places while being supported by Wildlife Trust staff has a clear impact on people’s health; it makes people feel better, happier and more connected to other people. Participants also reported increases in their sense of connection to nature.

“The Department of Health should take note – our findings could help reduce the current burden on the National Health Service because they illustrate a new model of caring for people that does not rely solely on medication and traditional services.”

The Health and Wellbeing Impacts of Volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts report is available to read here. See page 35 for information on how GWT delivers weekly conservation volunteering groups.

For a four page summary of the University of Essex’s research for The Wildlife Trusts see here.

You can read all three research reports comissioned by The Wildlife Trusts from the University of Essex below:

Phase 1 report: Wellbeing benefits from natural environments rich in wildlife

Phase 2 report: The direct and indirect contribution made by The Wildlife Trusts to the health and wellbeing of local people

Phase 3 report: The health and wellbeing impacts of volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts