Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature: “We aim to find out more about how Sheffield’s natural environment can improve the health & wellbeing of city residents” – Dr Anna Jorgensen, Lead Researcher

Note to Reader:

Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature (IWUN) is a three year research project in the United Kingdom awarded £1.3m by the Natural Environment Research Council’s Valuing Nature Programme. It aims to find out more about how Sheffield’s natural environment can improve the health and wellbeing of the city’s residents, and especially those with disproportionately high levels of poor health.

The project, led by Dr Anna Jorgensen at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape Architecture, brings academics from the universities of Sheffield, Derby, and Heriot-Watt together with the Wildlife Trusts, Recovery Enterprises and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare. They will use a range of methods, including a specially designed smartphone app, to investigate people’s relationships with Sheffield’s parks and green spaces.

Project Rationale

There is considerable evidence that a healthy natural environment – particularly where people live – and regular access to it, can contribute positively to the health and wellbeing of the population, and that it has the most benefit on those with the highest levels of ill-health. As society looks for cost effective ways to boost mental and physical health and quality of life, it is clear that increased positive interaction between people and the natural environment could be a significant part of the UK’s future health care arrangements.

However, this potential is not yet being fulfilled – in part because we do not fully understand how and why people interact with the natural environment, and which aspects of the environment, and people’s experience of it, lead to positive health and wellbeing outcomes.

  • Does the biodiversity of a place affect people’s health and wellbeing?
  • Why are some sections of society, on whom natural environments could have the greatest positive impact, less likely than average to visit natural places?
  • What part does experience of and connection to nature play?
  • What role does access to a high quality natural environment have in the health and wellbeing of people at particularly significant stages in their lives (when they are most vulnerable to ill-health)?

On the project website, it notes that: If we understood the physical, psychological and socio-economic reasons why members of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, the elderly, disadvantaged urban residents, and those from lower socio-economic groups (in particular) interact with the natural environment as they do – and how this changes through their lives – it would enable us to design and manage our urban spaces more effectively to generate health and wellbeing benefits, and to engage critically important sections of society more effectively, to great social and economic benefit.

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