The NHS Forest is an alliance of health sites working to transform their green space to realise its full potential for health, wellbeing and biodiversity, and to encourage engagement with nature. The project is run by CSH as part of its Green Space for Health programme.
The NHS Forest started life as a tree planting project in 2009. Since then, around 300 healthcare sites across the UK have joined our alliance, and almost 100,000 trees have been planted on or near to their estates. But like all forests, the NHS Forest comprises far more than just trees. Our sites have established a wide range of green spaces on and around their land, which offer multiple benefits to the people and wildlife that inhabit and visit them.
The NHS has around 6,500 hectares of land in England alone, and healthcare sites can act as ‘anchor institutions’ in their communities, providing spaces for socialising and learning, recreation and exercise. Ensuring there is accessible green space can have wide reaching impacts.
Examples of NHS Forest green space include:
- Peaceful gardens offering patients and relatives a healing space
- Woodlands, orchards and native wildflower meadows
- Allotments to provide fresh, organic produce, and spaces for horticultural therapy and skill sharing
- Nature-based play space for children
- Outdoor rehabilitation and therapeutic activities (e.g. yoga and mindfulness)
- Art trails for outdoor reflection and recreation.
Why green NHS sites?
A growing body of evidence points to the benefits of access to nature and green space for mental and physical health, including positive outcomes for heart rates and blood pressure, stress levels, mood and self-esteem, obesity, type 2 diabetes, post-operative recovery, birth weight, children’s cognitive development and cardiovascular disease. When people have more access to green space where they live, income-related health inequalities are less marked. In England alone, it has been calculated that the NHS could save an estimated £2.1 billion every year in treatment costs if everyone had access to good quality green space.
The NHS Forest and biodiversity
The UK is in desperate need of more tree cover. Woodland covers just over 13% of the UK’s land area, but around half of this comprises non-native plantation trees. The NHS Forest supplies native species, which may be used to create woodlands, orchards and hedgerows – vital habitat for many of our at-risk wildlife species. Many NHS Forest sites have planted native, perennial wildflowers along borders or in meadows, to support pollinators and other insects; this in turn can see the return of wildlife such as bats and house martins.
Any NHS site, from hospitals to GP surgeries and ambulance stations, can join the NHS Forest network for free. It takes five minutes to register your site.