Therapeutic Nature project

We have been awarded funding from Defra to identify what works in the use of nature-based therapeutic interventions for people with an identifiable mental illness. The new work is closely aligned with the MRC funded Nature on Prescription project.


One of the key aims of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan is to help identify how we can best use the natural environment as a resource for preventative and therapeutic health programmes. This research will help improve understanding of active elements of therapeutic nature interventions and will clarify how they can be planned, delivered and embedded in wider practice.

There are four key strands to the 12 month project:

Work Stream 1: Review and map current provision of nature-based therapeutic interventions, including commissioned and non-commissioned services and schemes, to support people with a mental illness. We aim to understand: which population groups are participating; types of interventions and their nature; funding models; costs; relationship with health and social care organisations.                           

Work Stream 2: Review the current available evidence base for the effectiveness of therapeutic nature-based interventions. We are using rapid systematic review approaches to assemble and synthesise existing evidence for the therapeutic effects of nature-based interventions. We also aim to identify the mechanisms through which interventions may impact on core mental health symptoms and behaviours; which outcomes are likely to be appropriate measures of impact and the factors that facilitate or hinder intervention implementation and adherence, including medical, governance and financial factors.

Work stream 3: Gather insights from key stakeholders to understand perceptions about what works, and the factors that influence success in commissioning, delivery, and implementation. We will seek to include service commissioners, mental health service professionals, primary health care services, environmental voluntary organisations, community-based providers and other intermediaries in the four key locations.

Work stream 4: Synthesis, we will bring together insights from the mapping, evidence review and qualitative insight work to produce a detailed conceptual framework, descriptive texts and illustrative case cases. We will focus on understanding and explaining the factors that affect successful provision of nature-based therapeutic interventions for people with mental ill-health and how these may be mitigated against. This will include understanding key elements of the social prescribing system where challenges may occur and how these barriers may be overcome, as well as describing successful approaches at each step. We will also identify opportunities to build on existing provision, together with understandings of what works, for whom, in what circumstances. This will provide opportunities to propose how new, larger scale, sustainable and more systematic approaches to offering and delivering nature-based mental health therapies may be developed.

The Therapeutic Nature project is led by Dr Ruth Garside and is a collaboration between researchers at ECEHH, University of Exeter, PenCLAHRC, University of Plymouth and Exeter, NHS Born in Bradford and eftec.


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