2019 marks 70 years since the nation’s ‘iconic’ landscapes – National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – were first established. From the Peak District to the Cotswolds, Cornish coast and our very own Surrey Hills, each landscape is unique, cherished and a valuable natural asset. The protected landscapes of the UK face a growing demand for the services they provide, particularly the opportunity for recreation and the benefits this provides to physical and mental health.
It has been proven that green spaces can contribute to the prevention and treatment of physical and mental health conditions. From active pursuits to forest schools, the outdoors plays a big part in keeping minds and bodies healthy. From improving memory and fighting depression to lowering blood pressure – the outdoors is our Natural Health Service.
To examine this subject further a Surrey Hills Symposium took place at the end of November at the University of Surrey in Guildford, bringing together Health Care professionals and academic researchers to look at the benefits of landscape to society — from young people to healthy ageing. The event topic proved popular, with over 400 people in attendance!
Professor Max Lu, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey, comments: “We feel very strongly at Surrey that the impact of our teaching and research must be to actively address our planet’s grand challenges, and to improve lives across the world. This Symposium is a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate, inspire and engage with our mission.
“This year’s theme of ‘Our Natural Health Service’ is significant to everyone. It has been shown in measurable ways that spending time in a natural landscape benefits wellbeing. Gradually, the inter-reliance of people and nature is becoming an unarguable fact.”
Speaker, Dr William Bird, MBE, CEO of Intelligent Health, GP and founder of the Health Walk scheme comments: ““Our bodies are meant to be active and we’re designed to be connected to nature. We’re hunter-gatherers and our bodies currently exist in an alien environment of being indoors all the time and living under artificial lights and so on. Owing to this, our bodies respond with chronic inflammation which leads to illness. The real aim of the game is to get people moving and connect them to their place.” He continues “ I like to think way beyond the current constraints of normal healthcare; developing innovative projects that will have a lasting and meaningful change for the health and wellbeing of entire communities.”
Patron of the Surrey Hills and local resident Dame Penelope Keith DBE DL, who was also in attendance, comments: “The Surrey Hills have been my home for many years, and I am passionate about this beautiful area. Being so close to London makes the Surrey Hills one of the most pressurised and busy of our protected landscapes, yet it still retains an atmosphere of great heritage and beauty that provides inspiration to so many residents, visitors and businesses. It is wonderful to see the health and well-being theme being taken up, particularly amongst young people whom I hope will get more opportunities to access their local area into the future.”
Academic researchers Professor Caroline Scarles and Dr Birgitta Gatersleben presented their findings on ‘Living Environments for Healthy Ageing’ and ‘Into the Wild: Restoring Young Minds in the Surrey Hills,’ respectively, which can be viewed here: www.surreyhillssymposium.org