Nature Deficit Disorder is a term used by the American author Richard Loux in his book Last Child in the Woods (written in 2005) to describe the damage caused by lack of access to nature and wild spaces. Green space is increasingly seen as being beneficial if not integral to good health: reducing stress levels and providing an escape from the physical and mental pressures of congested urban living. Public bodies are now researching the link between environment and health and how these health benefits may be enhanced in future ‘place making’. In China where population density is increasing rapidly this emphasis on providing access to green space to improve health has driven the Beijing’s Gardening and Greening Bureau to confirm plans to create five urban forests, 21 green spaces, 10 new leisure parks and 100 km of healthy green paths in 2018.
JFA Environmental Planning has always understood the importance of green spaces and that is why we have firmly embraced the ethos of ‘Bringing Nature into the Heart of Design’. But can investment in landscape infrastructure really reduce health inequality and improve lives? A new study, ‘Residential Greenness and Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorders’ funded by Hong Kong University, the UK Biobank and the UK Economic and Social Research Council has conclusive evidence to prove that residential green-space is an important factor in personal well-being and mental health outcomes.
The study used a cross-sectional data set from the UK Biobank of 94,879 participants from 10 spatially diverse UK cities. The Biobank is an UK charity with government and academic support that tracks the health of 500,000 participants for research purposes. The participants in this study were middle aged or older – a significant life-stage for the onset or progression of mental health disorders. A high-resolution metric of residential greenness was created for the study using infra-red aerial imagery.
Adjustments were made for other physical, social and environmental variables but the study showed that exposure to residential green space (including private gardens and street trees) produced a significant reduction in mental health disorders in the order of 4%. The effects for women, people under 60 years of age and those living in deprived areas was particularly marked. The authors concluded, ‘With rapid urbanisation and progressive urban densification optimisation of individual level exposures to green can be one of the most enduring public health interventions achieved by urban design and planning’. The presence of nature in cities increases restorative activity and social interaction; provides amenable living space; and natural filters to mitigate the harmful effects of air, noise and thermal pollution. Further research is needed to determine how the maximum benefit may be effectively designed into our cities using green infrastructure.
Study by Chinmoy Sarkar and C Webster, Healthy High Density Cities Lab, HKUrban Lab, University of Hong Kong and J Gallacher, Dept of Psychiatry, Oxford University
What is it?
A BioBlitz is an intensive series of surveys carried out with the purpose of recording wildlife within a specific area over a short period of time (usually 24 hours). This type of survey is aimed at utilising citizen scientists and volunteers, with members of the public working alongside experienced naturalists and ecologists to record as many different species as possible. A BioBlitz can be scaled to the area of interest, ensuring that this type of survey is suitable for a wide range of groups and locations such as local schools, parks and wildlife groups.
A BioBlitz highlights many of the species present in one location, providing useful distribution and population data for various conservation projects around the country. The data collected can also be used as a baseline for future surveys, allowing for population trends to be determined. Do not be discouraged if you do not find as many species as expected, absence of a species in itself is also a valuable record and can help show areas that could benefit from ecological improvement. The results of a BioBlitz can be incredibly useful to landowners and stakeholders in developing suitable soft landscaping and biodiversity plans to maintain and improve the wildlife value of the site. This can be carried out locally at schools, colleges and parks, as well as on a county-wide level. Organising a BioBlitz is a good way of involving local communities to educate members of the public and encourage an interest in wildlife. Often an increased understanding of the wildlife in their surroundings can lead to many positive side effects, such as greater environmental awareness and a desire to cultivate wildlife on private properties.
How to get involved
If you want to take part in a BioBlitz but don’t know where to start, keep an eye on your local wildlife groups. The following organisations are just a few that have all run or participated in a BioBlitz in the last 5 years: Natural History Museum, the London Wildlife Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Field Studies Council and the Royal Parks Foundation – the charity for the Royal Parks. Alternatively, you might decide to run your own BioBlitz-don’t worry, there is plenty of guidance on this available on the web (see below).
Organising your BioBlitz: Resources
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