Posted: Wednesday 28th November 2018

A new project delivered by environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd with support from South Gloucestershire Council and Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, and funded by the Environment Agency, provides new evidence that nature-based sustainable prescribing could improve water quality for all and help the NHS make savings.

Eunomia was commissioned by the Environment Agency to develop an evaluation framework for collecting primary research results to see if they could find evidence of the value of nature-based prescribing – either in raising awareness of water pollution, and therefore changing behaviour, or identifying benefits to health and wellbeing.

To deliver the framework, Eunomia identified and facilitated relationships with relevant stakeholders including South Gloucestershire Council, Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership, and Bristol Avon Rivers Trust. Working closely with these organisations, the consultancy put together a six-week programme called River Remedies: Improving Wellbeing through Nature which offered vulnerable adults and teenagers the chance to engage with nature at sites on the Bristol Frome River.

Project partner Bristol Avon Rivers Trust co-ordinated river access and risk assessments whilst the public health team from South Gloucestershire Council sourced participants likely to benefit from taking part. Participants were invited to sessions made up of a variety of river-based activities including looking at river samples, testing for phosphates and nitrates, litter picking and yellow fish campaigning. Wellbeing scores and pollution awareness levels were recorded before and after the sessions, and although it’s unlikely researchers will be able to estimate NHS savings until several months have passed, the accompanying project report shows there was an increased awareness and understanding of issues relating to water pollution and the small sample size indicated positive wellbeing following activities, a potential health crisis was also averted thanks to early intervention with a participating individual.

In 2013, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee heard evidence on the potential costs of treating a revised watch list of chemical compounds in the UKs water supply, Defra and the Environment Agency calculated that water company investment to remove these compounds at sewage treatment works could add £110 to the annual household water bill. In recent years, more evidence has emerged on the increased presence and ecological impacts of commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals such as drugs used to treat mild forms of anxiety and to treat Type-2 diabetes.

David Baxter, Head of Natural Economy at Eunomia and Project Director said: “Programmes like this are a great way for water companies to engage with communities, look after their customers, and if less pharmaceuticals are being prescribed as a result of improved health and wellbeing, there will be less risk to water supplies and less investment needed to clean it up. I hope to see more partnerships like this in the future.”

Damian Crilly, Manager of Strategic Catchment Partnerships at the Environment Agency said: “The 25 Year Environment Plan promotes the use of the natural environment as a resource for good health and wellbeing, including through nature based social prescribing. Our overall aim for the project was to contribute to the evidence base on the benefits of nature based social prescribing and to show the practicalities that could be followed by catchment partnerships. This study has provided valuable, practical insight into the delivery of a social prescription on connecting people with nature. It found that river based remedies, a kind of nature based social prescription, has a positive effect in terms of increased engagement with the river, it helped manage mental health risks and improved wellbeing.” Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE

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