Tiny Healthy Forests Bring Health Benefits of Nature to the NHS - Earthwatch

Tiny Healthy Forests Bring Health Benefits of Nature to the NHS

Earthwatch Europe and the NHS Forest, led by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, have teamed up on an innovative new project to plant Tiny Forests at NHS sites across England. The Tiny Healthy Forests initiative aims to bring the proven health benefits of spending time in nature directly to patients, staff and communities.

What is a Tiny Forest?

A Tiny Forest is a dense, fast-growing woodland made up of 600 native trees planted in a plot the size of a tennis court (200 square metres). The concept was developed by Japanese botanist Dr. Akira Miyawaki in the 1970s as a way to quickly establish forests in small urban spaces.

While tiny in scale, these condensed woodlands can have a huge positive impact. Trees and plants improve air quality, mitigate climate change effects and provide valuable urban wildlife habitats. Simply being around nature has been shown to reduce stress, boost happiness and improve physical and mental health leading to a reduced need for GP and hospital visits and faster recovery times.

Bringing Tiny Forests to the NHS

By establishing a series of Tiny Forests at hospitals, clinics and other healthcare settings, NHS Forest and Earthwatch Europe hope to make these therapeutic green spaces accessible to patients, staff and local communities. The low-maintenance miniature woodlands can include glades perfect for gentle physical activity or simply a quiet moment surrounded by nature.

The team hope to plant six new Tiny Forests at NHS sites around the country starting in November 2024.

The project also aims to generate insights by engaging patients and staff in activities like monitoring the new woodlands’ growth and wildlife. Engaging with Tiny Forests can enhance connection to nature, foster sustainable environmental stewardship and improve understanding of how these things impact health.

Staff at one existing Tiny Forest at Littlemore Mental Health Centre in Oxford shared their thoughts:

“I enjoy going there not just with the people we support but also going on my own. I like going round there as I find it relaxing, it takes you away from other things and lets you focus on nature”.

Why Tiny Healthy Forests Matter

With large, impersonal buildings at so many hospitals, Tiny Healthy Forests can create pockets of nature within the often-stressful medical environment. By making Tiny Forests part of NHS grounds, staff, patients and the local community can easily access these healthy spaces.

At the same time, involving patients directly with nurturing and studying their local Tiny Forest can cultivate stronger bonds with the natural world which has a therapeutic effect. Staff at Littlemore Mental Health Centre shared why this is important:

“Patients really look forward to visiting the Tiny Forest each week. They enjoy taking part in the surveys and Science Days. This has made them feel valued.”

Through creative urban green spaces like Tiny Healthy Forests, we hope to bring the therapeutic power of trees and green spaces to healthcare sites across England. To find out more or register your interest, visit the NHS Forest website.

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