Defra's Evidence Statement on the links between Natural Environments and Human Health.
The question is often asked of those promoting the natural environment as a source of health and wellbeing benefits, 'what's the evidence?' Sometimes something quite substantial happens in the world of policy that is easy to miss, and the significance of which doesn't becomes clear until a little later. One example might well be the evidence briefing that was recently written for Defra by a colleague, Becca Lovell, at the University's of Exeter's European Centre for the Environment and Human Health. This is a report characterised by academic rigour, which summarises that evidence and then elicits a rather interesting response from the government department.
First the authors make some important statements. They find that the evidence "highlights a need for more integrated policy and delivery across the health and natural environment sectors at a wide range of spatial scales". We need to do this, they say, so that policy, and the delivery of that policy, can "encourage and enable people and organisations to behave differently to improve health outcomes and benefit the natural environment".
Then, with unduly alacrity for Whitehall, the report takes one small step further. Small, but important. There report goes on to say that "rather than waiting until the evidence base is significantly more extensive, there appears to be a strong case for developing more integrated policy and practice across the health and natural environment spheres, with a strong emphasis on learning and evaluation to improve understanding of the most effective approaches and assess impacts. Such policies have the potential to deliver health and wellbeing benefits, and strengthen the case for protecting and enhancing the natural environment. It may be helpful to focus future efforts in a small number of pilot areas, because of the potential for integrating across a range of policy areas as part of place based approaches at local and regional scales". 'Rather than waiting' is the key phrase here; there is no need to wait for the evidence to becomes any more extensive (it already is quite substantial on a number of fronts, as this series of evidence reports lays out in some detail ). Rather, we need to crack on with those schemes and projects that set out to forge the links between the environment and health systems and sectors: something we are very much working on in Cornwall.