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Research reveals mental health impact of a walk in the woods – here's what it's reckoned to be worth

By Hector MacKenzie

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Spending time in woodlands alleviates conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Spending time in woodlands alleviates conditions such as anxiety and depression.

A new study reveals that visits to woodlands for recreation could save around £26 million a year in treating mental ill-health in Scotland.

The study also estimates that trees in urban populations could reduce Scotland’s bill for antidepressants by around £1 million each year.

The research study is the first of its kind, demonstrating the “avoided costs” to the NHS through improved well-being by visiting woodlands and nature.

Welcoming the study, Environment Minister Màiri McAllan said: “Scotland’s forests and woodlands offer so many environmental, social and economic benefits to society.

“During Covid-19 pandemic, access to woodlands has become even more important to individuals in supporting and maintaining their well-being.

“It is widely recognised that spending time in woodlands can have a positive effect on alleviating conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“This study is important because we now have a clear monetary value on how much our woodland resource could be worth in tackling poor mental health.”

The study, carried out by Forest Research, was commissioned by Scottish Forestry, the Welsh Government and the Forestry Commission in England.

It was undertaken in order to put a value on the mental health benefits that woodlands bring to the population.

Placing a monetary value on these benefits shows how the use of woodlands can help to alleviate pressures on NHS resources.

The study examined the avoided costs associated with reductions in GP visits, drug prescriptions, inpatient care, social services and in the number of days lost at work from mental health issues.

The value across all of the UK’s woodlands is estimated to be £185 million (at 2020 prices). This is distributed as £141 million for England, £26 million for Scotland, £13 million for Wales and £6 million for Northern Ireland.

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