Yesterday saw the publication of the Government’s new 25 Environment Plan. From the point of view of those interested in health, wellbeing and nature it contains some significant signs of progress. Back in 2011, the then coalition Government published ‘The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature’. It explained the remit for Local Nature Partnerships in more detail. ‘Connecting through nature’s health service’ was one of the headings, and the paper talked about how Local Nature Partnerships and Health and Wellbeing Boards should engage each other, and how the natural environment as a wider determinant of public heath should be incorporated into the joint strategic needs assessments underpinning local health strategies. Sometimes that has indeed happened, but it’s fair to say that progress around the country has been patchy.
This time around, Michael Gove’s paper is a bit more ambitious in this area, at least. Now, ‘connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing’ is given a whole chapter in its own right. Alongside the aim to encouraging children to be close to nature, and to help people to take responsibility for improving the environment - themes that were both present in 2011 and further back in time - the link between nature and health is given focus and detail. Most positive and exciting is the expansion of thinking, outwards from public health messages to now incorporate the potential role clinical services have to play. One aim is to examine how NHS mental health providers can establish working arrangements with environmental voluntary sector organisations to offer nature-based therapeutic interventions, something that Dose of Nature has been working on for a few years now. The paper also goes on to say “as part of a development of social prescribing across England, specialist social prescribing teams could help to connect patients with environmental support. In support of this work, the Personalised Care Group in NHS England will explore how its own universal model supports people who would benefit from community and environmental programmes”. Again, this is very promising and a further step in the right direction. Whatever other criticisms can be levelled at the new Environmental Plan, it's fair to say that Defra has taken on board the increasing evidence of the beneficial health and wellbeing services that flow from nature, and has actually thought through how they can be realised.