Green Space for Health

One of our key areas of expertise is the interface between green space and health, from programmes on the ground to strategic work at national level. In relation to the four principles of sustainable healthcare, the natural environment contributes to the prevention of illness by increasing physical and mental wellbeing and offers people therapeutic benefits for recovery. 

The NHS Forest

The flagship project in our Green Space for Health programme is the NHS Forest, our national campaign to plant trees at NHS sites. Trees are natural climate solutions – locking up carbon, providing shade and preventing flooding. Our partner sites have planted over 65,000 trees on or near NHS land. With the help of our tree sponsorship scheme we aim to plant one for every member of NHS staff – over a million.  

Better green space for health sites

With the help of our NHS Forest partners we are working to increase the quality and use of green space at healthcare sites for patients, staff and the wider community. This can mean beautiful therapeutic gardens for rest and recovery, growing areas for fruit and vegetables, art trails in woodland, dedicated gardens for health staff and much more besides. Natural environments have enormous benefits for people’s wellbeing as evidenced by many research studies. Hospital patients who have a view of trees from their window have been shown to recover more quickly and to need fewer painkillers than similar patients who can’t see trees from their beds. We aim to make gardens and greenery for rest and recovery an accepted part of mainstream healthcare. Around 200 NHS sites have joined this good practice network. Our newsletter and annual conference help sites to share their experience, while our award scheme champions their efforts. 

One of our early green space projects was a three-year Lottery funded programme with University Hospital, Coventry and St Catherine’s Hospital, Doncaster. At the University Hospital, this led to development of a beautiful new nature reserve with local apple varieties, a pond platform and an otter holt, with involvement from school children, hospital patient groups and staff. The site features in this short film. A key focus of the project at St Catherine’s Hospital was to target ‘hard to reach’ groups and to reduce barriers, both physical and perceived, between the local community and the services users.

We are currently working to take treatment outdoors with Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in West London, where refurbishment of a garden for their chemotherapy suite will enable patients to have chemotherapy treatment outside. 

With support from the Health Foundation, we have recently completed a study that explores the value of green space at health sites for combatting staff stress and supporting workplace wellbeing. Our research explores the benefits and barriers experienced by staff and puts forward recommendations for good practice at sites across the NHS.

We are partners in Bee Healthy, an Oxfordshire project which helps GP surgeries plant pollinator-friendly borders. 

Our regular Green Space and Health training days help healthcare professionals to plan and take forward their own green space projects at their sites. 

Green Health Routes

Our projects on green space and health also look beyond hospital settings to encourage communities to get to know the green spaces around them. A growing body of research demonstrates links between access to green space where people live and reductions in a range of health problems including long-term medical conditions. Greater access to green space can narrow health inequalities. With this in mind we set up the Green Health Routes programme in several areas of Oxford. Our Green Health Routes maps such as this one for East Oxford, create walking trails between health centres and areas of publicly accessible green space to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature on their doorstep. The programme also encourages GPs to prescribe exercise to their patients via ‘green prescriptions’. We have established regular walking groups from surgeries and have celebrated local green space through community walking events and workshops with schools and residents. We are now working with Plantlife and the National Trust on Gweirgloddiau Gwych Cymru: Magnificent Meadows Wales to create mini-meadows and 'meadow health routes’ that connect people to meadows and species-rich grassland.

National policy work

CSH staff are members of national bodies, such as the Green Infrastructure Partnership and Natural England Outdoors for All Working Group and feed into government white papers and working groups. At regional and local levels, we link into Local Nature Partnerships and various NHS bodies. We have also contributed to a number of research projects, including research with the University of Sheffield on Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature