New report estimates mental health benefits of visiting UK woodlands at £185m

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Visits to the UK’s woodlands boost mental health and are estimated to save £185 million in treatment costs annually, a ‘landmark’ report published by Forest Research has found.

The report, published during ‘National Tree Week’ and funded by the Forestry Commission, Scottish Forestry and the Welsh Government, is reportedly the first time the health and wellbeing benefits of the UK’s woodlands have been quantified.

Forestry Commission Chair, Sir William Worsley, commented: “This report demonstrates just how vital it is to invest in healthy trees and woodlands.

“It makes medical sense, because it will mean better health for all; economic sense, by saving society millions of pounds and it makes environmental sense, helping us to tackle the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.”

For England specifically, woodlands are reported to save £141 million costs associated with mental health illnesses, including visits to GPs, drug prescriptions, inpatient care, social services and the number of days lost due to mental health issues.

The figures are based on evidence of the reduced incidence of depression and anxiety resulting from regular visits to woodlands.

According to Forest Research, the prevalence of mental illness has increased during the coronavirus pandemic. Access to trees, woods, forests, and other natural environments including urban parks and green spaces is reported to have become even more important for individuals to support and maintain their wellbeing.

Of visits to all greenspace over the past 10 years, from farmland and countryside to parks and playing fields), 14.1% of these were made to woodlands.

According to the authors, trees and woodlands are ‘essential’ for communities in urban areas, supporting wellbeing, reducing pollution and improving quality of life. Supporting this, the report finds that the value of street trees through avoided antidepressant costs related to mental health issues is £16 million.

The report also finds that longer term, the value over the next 100 years is estimated to be just over £11 billion for the mental health benefits of visits to woodlands, and a further £1 billion for the mental health benefits of street trees.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information for mental health charity Mind, added: “Spending time outdoors – especially in woodlands or near water – can help with mental health problems such as anxiety and mild to moderate depression.

“This might be due to combining regular physical activity and social contact with being outside in nature.

“Being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year.

“Although many of us feel like hibernating in winter, getting outside in green spaces and making the most of the little daylight we get can really benefit both your physical and mental health.”

Almost half the population say that they are spending more time outside than before the pandemic, while the majority of adults surveyed by Forest Research agreed that their level of happiness when in woodlands and nature has increased.

The ‘Valuing the mental health benefits of woodlands’-report can be found on the Forest Research website.