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The results of a trial which saw healthcare professionals at five practices in Edinburgh prescribing nature since November 2020 have revealed that 87% of patients involved will continue to use nature to help their health and wellbeing and 91% of prescribers will prescribe it.

A new report, launched today, details the findings of the Nature Prescriptions Edinburgh trial. It reveals that nearly 350 patients were prescribed nature as part of treatment for 32 different health conditions and demonstrates why nature should be part of every healthcare professional's toolkit in the future. RSPB Scotland is now looking to find funding and further partners to support extending the delivery of this promising initiative across Scotland.

The trial was part of a collaboration between RSPB Scotland, Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation (the official charity of NHS Lothian) and local GPs. It aimed to investigate whether Nature Prescriptions, an idea created in Shetland in 2017 and well received there, could work in an urban environment, and to explore the potential for extending it throughout Scotland.

During the pilot, 50 healthcare professionals across the five practices prescribed nature to their patients as part of their treatment. Nature was prescribed for 32 different health conditions across all age groups. Most of the 335 recorded prescriptions (69%) were given to support mental health conditions, with anxiety and depression the two most cited reasons, 17% were for physical health (mostly obesity and diabetes) and 10% for both.  

Nearly three-quarters of patients who provided feedback said they had benefited from their Nature Prescription, with most continuing to connect with nature each week, and 87% of them said it was likely or very likely that they would continue using it. The main reasons for liking the formal prescription were that it gave patients the permission and motivation to engage with nature, it was a drug-free safe alternative and they thought it was working.

Sitting by a tree

Nature prescriptions helping hundreds of patients in Edinburgh


Spending time in natural environments and exercising outdoors can, in itself, be beneficial for wellbeing, but Nature Prescriptions involves more than simply being outdoors. It's about connecting with nature in ways that are personal, emotional and meaningful. For example, some of the activities suggested in the Edinburgh Calendar included: tuning in to the changing seasons, listening to nearby birdsong, getting to know a neighbourhood tree and helping local wildlife thrive.

It was this deeper emotional connection and the sensory elements that most patients highlighted was what they had most enjoyed and most benefited from during the pilot. Nearly 60% felt their awareness of nature had increased and 55% were more connected with nature than before.

Before the pilot, fewer than 50% of the GPs at the five practices involved were talking to their patients about the benefits of nature. After the pilot, 87% were prescribing nature, with more saying they would start to in future; everyone who had prescribed nature said they would continue.

The report outlines that a prescriber's – such as a GP's – own connection to nature appears to be key for their own wellbeing and a determinant of their likelihood of prescribing to patients. It concludes that supporting prescribers to connect to nature themselves and providing tools like those offered in the pilot is likely to increase patient prescriptions and deliver associated benefits to patients.

Ian Mackenzie, Green Health Programme Manager for Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation said: “In urban areas such as Edinburgh, we often overlook the nature on our doorsteps and this has been a great way for people to explore how nature can make us healthier and happier. We are delighted to have worked in partnership with RSPB Scotland and GP practices across Edinburgh on the Nature Prescriptions pilot and are so pleased to see that it has resulted in more people connecting with nature and experiencing the benefits that this brings.”

Dr Rachel Harrison, a GP at Mill Lane, said: “I have loved using the nature Prescription handouts. They are a great way to open a discussion about self-care including more time and exercise in natural environments and the benefits of this. Thank you for this delightful project, it is great to have something other than medication to offer patients presenting with a wide range of conditions such as diabetes, chronic pain, eating disorders, insomnia and anxiety.”

For more details on what was learned from the pilot or how to support and get involved in the next stage of Nature Prescriptions, people can attend a webinar at 1 pm on Thursday 20 January.

Find out more and register.

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