Webinar Report: Health & well-being: the role of protected areas

12th February, 2015

The role of protected areas for human health and well-being was examined in an EAI webinar held on behalf of the EUROPARC Federation’s Health & Protected Areas Working Group on 15th December 2014. Examples came from Scotland, France and Finland.

Promoting Green Health in Scotland was the title of Bridget Finton’s presentation. She presented the work that Scottish Natural Heritage has undertaken to show how nature can contribute to a healthier Scotland. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the benefits of nature for both physical and mental health, which has enabled nature to be integrated into health and other social policies. Partnerships are being built locally and nationally and changes are being made in ways of working to ensure that this integration of nature also becomes a reality on the ground.

Mélissa Desbois (Espaces Naturel Régionaux, France) provided insights into the partnerships being developed by the regional council and three regional nature parks of the Nord-Pas de Calais. The parks, given their proximity to large centres of population, have long provided a natural space for people to undertake outdoor sporting activities. However there has been an impetus to bring together several regional organisations, including heath institutes and insurance companies to counter the trend towards sedentary lifestyles and the accompanying negative impact on health. A nature health challenged has been established to get people to take up healthy outdoor activities in a natural environment, with personal and internet support. Mélissa also gave details of a partnership with Gites de France to further encourage take up.

Encouraging the Use of the Outdoors was the theme of Veikko Virkkunen’s presentation (Metsähallitus, Parks and Wildlife Finland). He outlined the health challenges encountered in Finnish society, which including obesity and mental health problems. As with Scotland he was able to call on a large body of research showing that nature promotes good health in several ways. Increased take up of outdoor activities brings with it a range of health benefits for individuals and society as a whole. In turn attitudes towards protected areas also become more positive. He went on to highlight initiatives that have been established in and around Oulu, including the projects Moved by Nature and OpenAir that have already had significant positive impacts on people in the region. There is great potential in bringing protected area and health professionals together!

Webinar attendees were clearly engaged in the event. One participant contacted us immediately afterwards to say:

Thank you for hosting the webinar and thanks too to all the speakers – some excellent examples and additional sources of evidence for the health benefits provided by the natural environment. I really enjoyed hearing about the different projects and approaches and have picked up some tips for our own project which is in development.

EUROPARC is very much about sharing ideas and good practice from across Europe, and this was reflected in the feedback for the event.

A recording of the webinar is available on request.