RSPB Scotland has recently launched it's partnership with NHS Shetland for 'Nature Prescriptions'. The benefits of contact with nature can include improvements in mental health as well as physical. On World Mental Health Day it is important to encourage increased awareness, understanding, and support worldwide for sufferers of mental illness, and anyone who experiences threats to their mental health and wellbeing. Community Engagement Officer Karen MacKelvie discusses nature prescriptions and how we hope they can improve our lives and our environment.


Here is your prescription for nature

Nature Prescriptions, in it’s current form, has been a while in the brewing. I remember my first day on the job, back in 2012, being pointed to “Natural Fit” and “Natural Thinking”,  two pieces of research about nature as a health benefit, and the idea being ‘put up in the air’ - that maybe we could work in this area.

Since that day I have looked at paper after paper that tells of the physical and mental health benefits of contact with nature. From reducing cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stress levels, rates of aggression, obesity. It can be used when treating Type II diabetes or depression or when recovering from operations, and it has been proven over and over again to provide relief from anxiety. Plus it’s free and easily accessible to all. It makes complete sense to work with the medical profession to connect people with nature.

Watching the gannet colony at Unst, Hermaness. Credit Ian Francis

It’s great for RSPB, because connecting people to nature through health means that people place greater value on the natural world. I mean - what greater value can be placed on something than that which helps your body and mind? If people rate nature, they are more likely to step up to protect it in the future… a win for a conservation charity like ourselves.

We wanted to develop something that gently reminded people that they are part of the natural world and that invites them to go out and seek a personal connection and not necessarily be guided to a connection through group walks or interventions (though links to those things also appear on the leaflet). As land artist Andy Goldsworthy says “We ARE nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves”.

We tried to develop the leaflet and online calendar of activities so that, whatever your fitness or inclination in the outdoors, there’s something that might inspire you to seek that nature connection. That’s why we included several local specialities in there such as 'spot the first Sten-shakkers (wheatears) returning to Shetland after wintering south of the Sahara' alongside really simple ideas like 'touch the sea' or 'borrow a dog'.


Credit Karen MacKelvie

A major part of the project is the partnership with the NHS. Recommending nature connection through the greater authority of our most trusted health professionals is bound to stick a bit better than coming from us alone. So we are really excited to be working in partnership. We thought closely about how it would work for GPs and we were very keen not to patronise anybody. I brought my knowledge of how GPs work to bare. Having grown up with a dad who is a GP and having close friends who are GPs, I could see that in a time-limited environment we needed doctors to be feel backed up by the evidence base and then help them speak about connecting to nature using our expertise.

We have found that most GPs, when they see the calendar, want to start ticking off the activities themselves - so that’s been a good start. They are a group of people that generally make full use of nature for their own health and wellbeing, but sometimes struggle to recommend it to a patient.

I think one of our best additions to the leaflet is the question 'Think of a time when you were little and felt a connection with nature'. Exploring what this means with a patient can often lead to a revelation that empowers someone to reclaim their relationship with the wild. I trained some doctors in the uses of Nature Prescriptions and asked them that question. There was one doctor I couldn't' get to come down out of the tree he enjoyed climbing as an eight year old! 

It’s great to offer directed activities that get people together with others for their mental or physical health. There’s much that can be done. Nature Prescriptions is just one idea that opens the front door on nature.

If you would like to learn more about our nature prescriptions take a look at the leaflet below or head to the Healthy Shetland website to see our calendar with over 100 ideas for connecting to nature.

Nature Prescriptions Leaflet.pdf