Rapid review of evidence for England’s new Green Infrastructure standards

Natural England have published the rapid scoping review of evidence relating to the links between green infrastructure and health and wellbeing that we produced to inform the development of a Framework of Green Infrastructure Standards for England.

The new Green Infrastructure Standards are one of the core commitments of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan (HM Government, 2018). The review was funded by Natural England, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Public Health England (PHE) and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

This summary review contributes to the Green Infrastructure Standards for England Technical Summary Report and Evidence Review (unpublished) led by LDA Design.

The review is aimed primarily at governmental (national and local) departments with responsibility for, or an interest in, how green infrastructure relates to health and wellbeing of the population of the UK. The review assess evidence relating to the:

  • Health and wellbeing outcomes of exposure to green infrastructure;
  • Active pathways between green infrastructure exposure and health and wellbeing outcomes;
  • Passive pathways between green infrastructure exposure and health and wellbeing outcomes;
  • Ecosystem disservices and health;
  • The type, amount, proximity, and quality of green infrastructure and health outcomes;
  • Promoting and protecting health with green infrastructure interventions; and
  • Promoting pupil mental health, wellbeing and educational outcomes with green infrastructure.

Here are the key messages of the review:

Green infrastructure is the network of green and blue spaces and features in both urban and rural places. It can include wildlife areas and woodlands; road verges and rights of way; parks and gardens; canals, rivers and wetlands; green-grey infrastructure such as green bridges and green walls or roofs; and natural flood management and sustainable drainage. Green infrastructure is a vital element of healthy places.

The evidence suggests that people who live in neighbourhoods with greater amounts of green infrastructure tend to be happier, healthier and live longer lives than those who live in less green places. It is likely that everybody benefits from green infrastructure. However, it may be that more disadvantaged communities benefit to a greater degree.

Although understanding is still limited, studies have shown that green infrastructure supports health and wellbeing through promoting positive mental health states, providing a context and motivation for physical activity and recreation, and allowing people to experience nature. Green infrastructure may also benefit health and wellbeing through contributing to healthy micro-biomes and better nutrition, and through reducing heat island effects, noise pollution, flooding, and poor air quality.

There are potential risks from the presence of green infrastructure. These include increased exposure to pollen or to disease vectors such as ticks.

There is still a need for further research to understand what types or amounts of green infrastructure are most beneficial for the health of different communities.

Further evidence is also needed to identify the most effective ways of providing new or improved green infrastructure to promote health. Despite this, the evidence does suggest a number of key principles:

  1. The provision of different types of green infrastructure around the home, place of work or education, or along transportation routes, is likely to maximise the potential ways in which people benefit.
  2. Both public (such as street trees, parks, and playgrounds) and private (such as domestic gardens) green infrastructure are important and support health in different ways.
  3. Green infrastructure that is well looked after is more likely to be perceived as safe and inviting, and therefore to be used.
  4. A good understanding of the needs and desires of local communities will help ensure new or improved provision is suitable.
  5. New or improved provision of green infrastructure has the potential to increase inequalities in health between different social groups. This is complex but can come about through, for example, processes of social exclusion, gentrification and pushing up of house prices. Care must be taken to try and understand the potential impacts of actions and to ensure that provision is equitable and fair.

Suggested citation: Lovell, R., White, M.P., Wheeler, B., Taylor, T., Elliott, L. (2020) A rapid scoping review of health and wellbeing evidence for the Green Infrastructure Standards. European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School. For: Natural England, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Public Health England, and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, England.

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