Green Walking in mental health recovery

Download the Guide for green walking in mental health recovery

Challenges in psychiatric care:

  • Acute psychiatric wards can be dehumanising and noisy environments, with limited access to therapeutic and community activities.  More diverse and therapeutic environments are required. 
  • A shift towards sustainable and holistic models of care is required.  Mental health services need to improve in the face of reduced funding, and be less carbon intensive to meet net zero targets. 
  • There is an increasing emphasis on physical health and activity in mental health services, but there can be limited opportunities to support this. 
  • Excessive use of the Mental Health Act without considering alternative solutions can lead to excessive detention and lack of supported leave.
  • There can be a lack of collaborative practice across inpatient wards between different professions. 
  • For psychiatric inpatients, there can be limited opportunities to go out for fresh air.  Green space access can often be minimally considered, despite  it supporting mental health wellbeing and recovery. 
  • People can experience difficulties with their transition between inpatient and community services upon discharge.


Green walking groups can provide a solution:

Green walking groups can address issues in each of the above problems areas.  The groups provide respite and healing to people receiving inpatient psychiatric care through walking together in nature, building on a significant existing body of evidence that has established the health and wellbeing benefits of green spaces and of walking.

Green walking groups can lay the foundation for transformational healthcare policy. Implications of the climate crisis have made it increasingly clear that delivery of effective healthcare by the NHS is not possible without an urgent shift towards sustainable policy and preventative models of health. Walking groups are a known but under-utilised intervention in mental health care which call on the physical and mental health benefits of engagement with green space.  Implementation of Green Walking can be delivered as part of the aims of net zero, sustainable healthcare and integrated care policies.

Green walking… 

  • brings benefits that are both simple (people feel better for having been on a walk) and complex (relationships can improve and the ward can feel calmer).
  • Can promote recovery off the ward, helping to shift mental healthcare from detention and crisis solutions towards a sustainable, preventative model. 
  • can bring people together with their community.
  • is an inclusive activity which works to ensure equitable and just access to green space.
  • Can help NHS Trusts implement their Green Plans
  • is an activity which could be accessible to people once they leave hospital

Green walking groups…

  • can be led by ward staff or volunteers
  • are an activity for staff and service users to enjoy together
  • promote non-restrictive practice
  • support the right to access green space
  • can be an integral tool in recovery, care and discharge planning.
  • can take place in local parks, woodland and walking trails, or in the hospital grounds.
  • are easily incorporated into existing ward activity timetables,
  • can complement walking groups with social prescribing elements
  • can include learning about the natural world and creative activities such as art or photography.
  • promote positive relationships and caring ward environments.


About the Green Walking in Mental Health Recovery initiative from the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare:

The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) started the Green Walking in Mental Health Recovery initiative in psychiatric hospital setting as inpatients are generally the client group with the least access to green spaces and who as a result benefit from Green Walking the most.  CSH are working towards a shift in the mental health paradigm where Green Walking is seen as an integral component of mental health wellbeing and recovery across all mental health settings, from primary care through to acute inpatient services. 

To find out more about Green Walking please click on the relevant link below:

I am an Individual: “I’d like to set up a Green Walking group on my ward”

I represent a Service: “I’d like to set up Green Walking groups across my hospital”

I represent an Organisation: “I’d like to set up Green Walking groups across my ICB/Trust/Health Board”

<iframe width="560" height="315" src=

>How Green Walking started:

In 2018 with funding from the Network for Social Change, CSH recruited teams across eight NHS Mental Health Trusts to run a pilot scheme of new Green Walking groups for inpatients.  The wealth of benefits and first-hand knowledge from these Green Beacon Sites informed the writing of Green Walking in Mental Health Recovery: A Guide.  The guide was endorsed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Occupational Therapists, Royal College of Nursing and the Maudsley Charity on launch in May 2020. 

The Green Walking in Mental Health Recovery initiative continues to promote and support walking in green spaces in the care of people with severe mental illness, to aid their recovery and rehabilitation, through resourcing and supporting NHS trusts to implement Green Walking. The initiative seeks to identify and overcome barriers preventing greater access to the natural world and empower the health service to integrate engagement with green spaces into standard models of inpatient care and beyond into other mental health settings. 


Download the Guide to Green Walking in Mental Health Recovery

 PDF icon Guide for Green Walking in Mental Health Recoverya resource to help professionals start new groups within their wards, the guide also summarises relevant evidence as well as representing perspectives from patients and a wide range of professionals. Access the presentations from the launch event (on 20 May 2020) below, and download the guide here:


Green Walking Case Studies 

Thank you to Mary Nguyen and Ian Palmeri for help in putting together these case studies. 

Guide, recording and presentations from the launch event on 20 May 2020

PDF icon green_walking_guide_final.pdf