Since the pandemic, 1.1 million fewer people are spending time in nature

UK Natural Capital Accounts report (ONS) state fewer people are gaining health benefits from spending time in nature in 2022.

Person in the forest
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

According to the report, in economic terms, the lost health benefits translate to an estimated £390 million, equivalent to £356 per person on average – which is how much the NHS would be willing to spend if it used treatments to achieve equivalent health benefits to those gained from time spent in nature. The drastic drop in health benefits also equates to more than 22,000 healthy years of life lost across people in the UK.

The number of nature visits is now back to levels last seen in 2019, which is significantly down from a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic-led peak in 2020. The reasons why the amount of time spent in nature has dropped in recent years is not fully evident, but responses from the Natural England’s People and Nature Survey indicate; bad/poor weather, busy at work and in the home, poor physical health and structural barriers (access to public transport, social inequity – 12% of households in Great Britain have no access to a private or shared garden (ONS 2020)).

In the decade, 2009 – 2018, there was a rise in the number of visits and time spent in nature, resulting in people gaining health benefits from their nature exposure. However, since 2020, there has been a sharp decline both in terms of visits as well as time spent. According to the report, people across the UK made 855 million fewer outdoor recreation visits in 2022 than they did in 2020. On average that that means around 10 hours less spent in nature per person in the UK.

Research has shown that exposure to nature has a positive effect on health and well-being. The scientific report by Angie Bone, Michael H. Depledge & Lora E. Fleming, suggested that people who spent just 2 hours (or more) per week spent in nature over a year, would be more likely to reporting good health or high well-being than those who spend no time in nature. The “Natural Health Service” report published by The Wildlife Trusts in June 2023, found that targeted green prescribing could not only save over £635 million per year but also reduce our reliance on the NHS as spending time in nature harnesses our health and well-being.

Links between nature, health and well-being, and climate change are on the agenda at COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference where governments discuss climate change-related policies.

Despite the decline in time spent in nature, 19.7 million people across the UK still gained health benefits from outdoor recreation in 2022. According to the report that is estimated to be worth around £7 billion in terms of the cost to the NHS of providing the same benefits.