Boost trees and environment to relieve pressure on NHS, politicians urged

Politicians are being urged to prioritise the environment, with measures such as more trees around schools, to boost the nation’s health.

The Woodland Trust is calling for the public to support its campaign to plant more trees and for political parties to make increasing native tree cover in the UK a long-term target as the country heads towards a general election.

And it says it has the backing of doctors, as polling suggests overwhelming support for environmental measures to reduce the pressure on the NHS and improve people’s health.

The charity has developed a new “tree equity app” which shows less positive health outcomes in areas of lower tree cover and which it says will allow a more targeted approach to tree planting in areas most in need.

A survey of 255 GPs from Dynata UK’s healthcare panel for the Woodland Trust suggests nearly three quarters (74%) thought planting more trees and creating a more healthy natural environment for people could help reduce the financial burden on the NHS.

Cyclist among trees
Time out in nature has been championed by campaigners as a way of boosting health (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

More than three quarters (77%) backed bringing in prescribing time out in nature to help with health conditions and mental health issues.

Some 94% of those polled thought that planting hedges around urban schools to soak up pollution was needed to improve children’s health.

And in the run-up to the general election, 96% thought policymakers should make the environment a priority.

Dr Darren Moorcroft, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, said politicians should heed the results.

“A startling 96% of GPs – who are on the frontline of healthcare in this country – want environmental issues moved up the political agenda,” he said.

“They recognise the potentially life-giving benefits of a cleaner, greener world, ever more important due to the greater effects of climate change – and want their patients to be able to access those benefits more easily.”

He added: “Woods and trees make us healthy and happy. They lock up carbon, fight the effects of climate change, improve our health and wellbeing and reduce pollution and flooding, protecting nature, people and our planet.

“This is why we are asking for people to support our climate campaign to plant more trees.”

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee England, said: “Our health and the environment are entwined in almost every way, and the potential benefits of more green spaces from both a mental and physical wellbeing perspective are yet to be realised.

“It’s important that we ensure more people have equal access to these spaces and that we do everything we can to protect the future of our planet and its people.”