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Wetlands and Mental Health

A growing awareness of the health promoting properties of contact with nature is leading to an interest in green health prescriptions. Broadly speaking, our relationship with nature is failing in the UK. We are considered one of the most nature-depleted parts of the world, and among the most nature-disconnected nations in Europe. A diminished potential for everyday interactions with nature appears to be eroding our connection to nature, or the awareness of being part of an interconnected web of life, having been referred to as an ‘extinction of experience’, with detrimental implications for our health and well-being.

The potential benefits of contact with nature for mental well-being has been referred to as a ‘forgotten ecosystem service’ and is a hugely undervalued and underutilised health promoting resource, with one study estimating that globally, visiting protected areas benefits the mental health of visitors $6 trillion per year. However even small humble habitats can be as important as larger protected areas in helping foster a sense of being fully and viscerally connected to the natural world. While nature in all its forms can have positive effects on mental and physical health, wetland habitats, which provide a mosaic of green and blue space, may be particularly restorative. Time spent in wetland settings has been associated with elevating mood, reducing stress and anxiety and promoting psychological restoration, relaxation and mental and emotional well-being. Natural settings such as these can act as health-buffering ‘equigenic environments’, or those that can disrupt the usual conversion of socioeconomic inequality to health inequality.

Freshwater habitats support disproportionally high levels of biodiversity, supporting up to 12% of the world’s animal species, despite covering 1% of the Earth’s surface. The biodiversity associated with wetland environments was one of the most

highly valued qualities they provide among members of the public surveyed in one study. A growing body of research demonstrates a link between encountering biodiversity and an abundance of wildlife and mental health and well-being. While unsustainable landscape change and simplification has been implicated with eroding people’s relationship with nature, richer and more biodiverse landscapes are more likely to promote engagement with the public and exhibit a richer sensorial tapestry, and this in turn may catalyse feelings of people’s connection to the wider natural world.

The UK has lost around 90% of its wetlands over the last few centuries, and there is a lack of opportunities for members of the public to engage in high quality nature experiences, in addition to major inequalities in access to restorative natural settings to members of the public. This is important, as visits to natural spaces once or more a week have been associated with greater well-being and pro-nature behaviours, and 120 minutes of recreational nature contact a week has been associated with self-reported health and well-being benefits. As recognition of the contribution that contact with nature has to health gains traction, restoring rivers and ponds, and integrating more wetlands into our wider natural landscape and increasing public access to these could provide a public health service of profound importance.

Norfolk Rivers Ecology are specialists in creating Integrated Constructed Wetlands (ICWs) which provide a broad range of benefits, including a rich habitat for wildlife and somewhere local communities can connect with nature. To learn more about Norfolk Rivers Ecology wetland creation services, click here.

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