A Million Fewer People Are Gaining Health Benefits From Nature Since 2020
28th November 2023
People in the UK are spending less time in natural environments since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
An estimated 1.1 million fewer people across the UK gained health benefits from spending time in nature in 2022 compared with two years earlier.
The value of those lost health benefits was estimated at around £390 million, equivalent to £356 per person on average.
That is how much it is thought the NHS would be willing to spend if it used treatments to achieve equivalent health benefits to those gained from time spent in nature.
This drop in health benefits was also equivalent to more than 22,000 years of life in perfect health lost across people in the UK.
The trend was caused by a drop in the number of visits to - and time spent in - nature over the last two years. The number of visits is now back to levels last seen in 2019, significantly down from a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic-led peak in 2020.
These findings form part of our UK natural capital accounts: 2023, which estimate the value of our natural wealth, and what it provides for future generations. You can read more about how we produce these measures in the main release.
As part of this article, we have spoken to the Head of Health and Education at The Wildlife Trusts, Dom Higgins, to get his views on the value of spending time in nature. The Wildlife Trusts is a group of organisations that run nature reserves across the UK.
Fewer people have gained health benefits from outdoor recreation since 2020
Change in the number of visits to, time spent in, and people gaining health benefits from nature, UK, 2009 to 2022.
Official survey data covering the period between 2009 and 2018 show that the number of visits to nature, and time spent in it, rose over the decade. This resulted in more people gaining health benefits from this exposure.
Since 2020, however, separate survey data have shown a decline in such activity.
People across the UK made 855 million fewer outdoor recreation visits in 2022 than they did in 2020.
This led to 567 million fewer hours being spent during and travelling to and from these visits over the period - equivalent to around 10 hours per person in the UK on average.
The downward trend since 2020 suggests that an increase in the number of visits to nature witnessed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may have been temporary.
Spending time in nature can have a positive effect on health and well-being, with studies showing links between time spent in forests and lower levels of stress.
Read the full article from the Office for National Statistics HERE