New study on the Health and Social Benefits of Biodiversity and Nature Protection

Protecting nature and biodiversity brings many often overlooked benefits for humans and society. This IEEP-led study analyses the role of nature in addressing physical and mental health challenges in highly urbanised societies, and its contribution to social cohesion across the EU. The work shows how protected areas and wider green infrastructure can contribute to, for example, improving air quality and cooling cities, reducing noise, offering exercise and recreational opportunities, and bringing citizens together from all walks of life, for example through various forms of volunteering.

There is plenty of evidence showing the potential of nature to address a range of health challenges, for example by facilitating physical activity and increasingly for improving mental health. The study therefore reveals untapped potential for reducing healthcare expenditures by focusing on preventative measures, including proactive use of natural areas.

The report synthesises the available scientific evidence on these overlooked benefits, which are often tied to ecosystem services, accompanied by over 100 practical case examples from across Europe, including 20 detailed case analyses. These examples show the importance of a strategic and planned approach to using nature for realising health and social benefits, including the integration of health aspects into green infrastructure planning at city and regional levels, but also vice versa the integration of the role of nature in health and social policies. The examples also illustrate how individual citizens have started local initiatives to improve health and social conditions.

Many health- and nature-related activities take place at the city and regional scale, but examples in the report also show how national level activity can promote the positive links between public health and nature through robust policy and institutional frameworks. The EU can support this by effectively implementing EU biodiversity policy and ensuring that various policies and financial mechanisms take into account the links between health, social and nature concerns.

The production of the report benefited from the contributions of stakeholders at a workshop held in January 2016. The report is part of IEEP’s wider work on the multiple economic and social benefits of protecting nature. Funded by the European Commission, the full report can be found on the DG Environment webpage.

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