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NHS healthcare and Tiny Forest: when people and nature meet, both benefit

Children from Highfield Unit Oxford, an NHS facility providing specialist inpatient services for young people aged 11 to 18 with acute mental health needs, and NHS Trust staff enjoyed the benefits of connecting with nature during a Tiny Forest Science Day in Littlemore on 18 July.

During the Science Day, organised by Earthwatch, participants discovered and learned about the wildlife in their local Tiny Forest, how the trees can absorb carbon, the forest's ability to store water, and the cooling benefits of the trees.

The restorative power of nature

Spending time outside is critical for our mental and physical health. Just 20 minutes of nature experience has been shown to significantly lower stress hormones*, and research has demonstrated that people with high nature connectedness are 1.7 times more likely to report that their lives are worthwhile**.

Tiny Forest brings the benefits of a forest – connecting people with nature, raising awareness of the environment, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change, as well as supporting urban wildlife – right into the heart of our cities and urban spaces.

Photo credit: Earthwatch Europe

Supporting Tiny Forest through citizen science

Staff from the local MINI Plant Oxford, sponsors of this Tiny Forest, and staff from Price & Myers, a consulting civil and structural engineering practice and also a Tiny Forest sponsor, joined a session on the day to support citizen science; gathering monitoring data that will help Earthwatch understand how Tiny Forests develop, and quantify the environmental benefits. The Tiny Forest as a whole is part of the NHS Forest, a nationwide good practice network for improving and increasing the use of green space in healthcare for social and environmental benefit. 

Tiny Forest on NHS sites – boosting wellbeing for staff, patients and visitors

The Littlemore Tiny Forest was originally planted in December 2021. Staff from MINI Plant Oxford and staff and patients from NHS Littlemore Mental Health Centre helped to plant 600 native trees. This Tiny Forest also includes a range of features such as paths and rest areas for patients, staff and visitors. It also provides a great spot to watch wildlife as a Tiny Forest is capable of attracting over 500 animal and plant species within the first three years. Seven months after planting, the Tiny Forest has grown, and so has the nature connection of those who visit it.

Tori Broom, Occupational Therapist at the Highfield Unit shared: "Our young people and staff were really excited and intrigued when they were told about the Tiny Forest trip. One because it was a new and interesting concept we had not heard of before and secondly as it meant a morning out on the last week of school! The Earthwatch staff were really supportive of our young people's learning styles and created a morning of fun and practical activities to develop all our learning about the natural environment and how important it is. This opportunity encouraged the young people to be more curious about the natural environment and put into practice the theory they have learnt in school."

Josh Lawrence attended the Science Day with colleagues from Price & Myers, he shared: “On this particular site the Tiny Forest benefits the hospital community, patients and staff. The site is right on the edge of the busy ring road, much like many of their projects working in built-up areas deprived of green space. We were tasked with measuring the trees and stems and recording these onto a central database for comparison with future data. We then took temperature and humidity readings around the site which will inform how the Tiny Forest influences the local climate through the next few years of intense growth and in the longer term.”

“Ben, May and Neil from Earthwatch were passionate and friendly and it really was such a pleasure to be involved in something so positive with such broad benefits; from helping local people and communities, increasing wildlife in our urban areas and by capturing and storing carbon as the trees grow. We learnt a lot in the short time we were there and we are proud to have contributed to something really special that will benefit many people in the years to come.”

Federico Izzo, Director for MINI UK & Ireland said: “Creative use of space is at the heart of MINI, so the partnership between MINI Electric and Earthwatch Europe to plant Tiny Forests is a perfect fit.  We’re really excited about how Tiny Forest can bring communities together and help educate on the important role biodiversity plays in sustainability.” 

Ben Williams, Senior Project Manager for Tiny Forest at Earthwatch Europe, said: “Tiny Forests provide rich opportunities for connecting people with the environment and sustainability. It’s vital that we give people the knowledge and skills to protect our natural world and inspire them to take positive action. Nature can also be hugely beneficial for our mental health, as today’s Science Day shows, a Tiny Forest will benefit all who visit it.


Research footnotes: 
* Hunter, Gillespie and Chen, 2018 
** Natural England, 2020


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