Biodiversity and wellbeing


 

What is well-being?

Human well-being is a very broad and complex concept and can mean different things to different people. Well-being includes both subjective (e.g. how happy you feel on a scale of 1-5) and objective measures (e.g. access to resources). A simple definition from the Oxford English dictionary describes well-being as ‘The state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.’

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes human health (4) as ‘A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’A more complex assessment takes into account the numerous aspects of health as well as the environment in which humans live; for example, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (1) identifies five basic elements of human well-being as:

  • an adequate supply of basic materials for livelihood (like food, shelter, clothing, energy)
  • physical health
  • security
  • good social relations
  • personal freedoms

This approach outlines the interdependence between human health and well-being and a healthy and stable ecosystem.

Nature, biodiversity and well-being

There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating a connection between engagement with the natural environment and improved well-being (5). Numerous studies have found that daily contact with nature is connected to better health through reductions in obesity (6), stress levels (7) and improved concentration (8). Although the effects of ‘green space’ are increasingly well understood, little is known about the importance of variation in the quality of green space, in particular differences in biodiversity, for benefits to human well-being.

 

Two hours a week

A recent study found that significant health improvements can be gained from just two hours of exposure to
nature a week (9). This effect was the same for people regardless of age, income and whether the person
lived in urban or rural areas. It did not matter whether the two hours were taken in one go or in a series
of shorter visits.

 

 

A study in northern England showed there is a link between the biodiversity of urban green spaces and their users’ well-being (10). Participants across 15 urban parks in Sheffield reported increased psychological well-being in the environment with the greater species richness of plants and, to a lesser extent, birds and butterflies. Psychological well-being measures focused on green space as a source of cognitive restoration, positive emotional bonds and sense of identity. Participants were asked whether their visit to the park helped to clear their minds, think about personal matters, gain perspective and connect with nature. They were able to recognise and estimate the level of biodiversity in the park, demonstrating that the level of biodiversity is relevant to the public.

This indicates that not only do green spaces provide measurable psychological and physical benefits to visitors, but that the biological complexity is significant for visitors’ psychological well-being (11). So it is not just a matter of quantity (more green spaces and better access to them), but also the quality of green spaces that are provided. This biodiversity toolkit aims to help housing providers increase the quality of available green spaces and by doing so, benefiting not only wildlife, but the physical and mental well-being of residents too.