Edinburgh GPs to prescribe nature and birdsong to patients in partnership with RSPB

GPs in Edinburgh are to prescribe nature as a treatment for patients in a groundbreaking partnership with RSPB Scotland.

A Redwing perched on a hawthorn tree. Picutre: Ben Andrew

Five practices are taking part in a five-month trial of Nature Prescriptions, an initiative inspired by growing evidence that connecting with nature makes people healthier and happier.

It was trialled in Shetland in 2017, and was eventually rolled out to all ten GP practices in Shetland in 2018.

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The Edinburgh pilot will look at whether the concept can also be applied to an urban environment, and explore the potential for extending it throughout Scotland.

It will involve East Craigs Medical Centre, Leith Mount Surgery, Inchpark Surgery, St Triduana’s Medical Practice and Mill Lane Surgery.

The Edinburgh trial was due to begin in March but was postponed due to Covid-19.

Patients will be given a leaflet and calendar of ideas for connecting with nature specific to Edinburgh. Examples include tuning in to the changing seasons, finding a favourite place in nature, listening to nearby birdsong, noticing the unique beauty of the surrounding landscape, reflecting on a favourite nature experience, getting to know a neighbourhood tree, and helping local wildlife thrive.

In some cases the materials will be provided, as needed, alongside regular prescriptions.

Ian Mackenzie, Green Health Programme Manager for Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation said: “Improving the health and wellbeing of people and communities across Edinburgh and the Lothians is at the heart of everything we do at the Foundation and we are delighted to work with RSPB Scotland and the local GP Practices to support this project.

"Greenspace-based activities have an important role to play in supporting wider community and public health, with everyday contact with nature having a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing and reducing stress.

"This is backed up by a growing evidence base from organisations including the World Health Organisation and NICE that shows contact with nature and access to greenspace is good for our health.”

Elaine Bradley, RSPB Scotland’s Project Development Executive for Nature Prescriptions said: “I think that it’s the simplicity of the project that makes it so appealing. We use our knowledge of nature to identify local activities and ideas which support GPs in prescribing nature, where appropriate, as part of a patient’s treatment plan.

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"Individuals benefit because connecting with nature can improve physical and mental wellbeing, and nature benefits because connecting with nature often inspires people to want to protect it.”

“There is growing evidence that connecting with nature provides a range of health benefits including: improved cardiovascular health; enhanced immune function; reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue; improved concentration; and increases in life satisfaction and happiness.

“While spending time in natural environments and exercising outdoors can, in itself, be good for our wellbeing, Nature Prescriptions involves more than simply being outdoors. It’s also about connecting with nature in ways that are personal, emotional and meaningful.

"For example, some of the activities suggested in the Edinburgh Calendar include: tuning in to the changing seasons, finding a favourite place in nature, listening to nearby birdsong, noticing the unique beauty of the surrounding landscape, reflecting on a favourite nature experience, getting to know a neighbourhood tree, and helping local wildlife thrive.

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