Green social prescribing (GSP) is a mental health and wellbeing initiative which helps individuals connect to non-medical services and activities in the great outdoors — and last year, more people in the South Wales Valleys took part than ever before.
Also known as ‘nature prescribing’, the concept has been explored by medical professionals for more than 20 years — and is being used to help treat the symptoms of a wide range of both physical and mental illnesses.
According to the Welsh Government, Wales has seen a +150% rise in the number of people benefitting from social prescribing* — with more than 25,000 people taking part in initiatives at parks, community gardens and nature reserves across Wales in 2020/21.
These initiatives are supported by a range of local health boards, third sector and grassroots organisations across the South Wales Valleys — namely Aneurin Bevan’s Integrated Wellbeing Networks, Gwent Wildlife Trust, Welcome to our Woods, regional mental health teams and Valleys Regional Park (VRP) — a partnership of Welsh organisations, including councils and charities, who work with nature to help the region thrive environmentally, socially and economically.
GSP sessions comprise a variety of activities — from mountain treks to outdoor exercise classes, bushcraft sessions and conservation activities — with people from across South Wales actively embracing their biological connection to the great outdoors and developing a keen interest in their local environment and green spaces.
Here are the stories of just some of the lives changed in South Wales, thanks to green social prescribing…
Jodie Bayliss, a mental health support worker for the Cambrian Consortium, attends the sessions delivered by Gwent Wildlife Trust. She said: “The sessions have had a massively positive impact on our service users’ mental health and wellbeing — giving them the confidence and knowledge to safely, and independently, explore the nature around them.
“They all come from the sessions feeling revived and express a positive mood throughout. It’s especially great to see their physical wellbeing improving alongside their mental wellbeing —boosting their self-esteem and confidence and giving them a natural ‘buzz’ for days.”
Holly Miller, Senior Occupational Therapist with the North Monmouthshire Adult Community Health Team, shared a similar experience: “After being part of the Wildlife Group for the last couple of months, it’s clear that the individuals involved have developed a real interest in wildlife and green spaces.
“Some individuals within the group have even said would like to go on to pursue additional volunteer opportunities in the outdoors, which is fantastic. And our sessions have become so popular, and so valuable, that we’ve increased the provision from once a fortnight, to once a week.”
And it’s not just healthcare professionals and community groups that can prescribe nature — individuals can refer themselves without professional intervention, by proactively attending nature-based activities of their choice, suited to their own needs.
Ian Thomas, Senior Officer for the Wild Health Project, said: “Research shows that for every £1 invested in green social prescribing, we could save the NHS £8 — and with the NHS on its knees, I believe nature prescribing to be the key to enhancing people’s mental health and wellbeing long before they’re referred to the NHS.”
Emphasising the value of GSP in Wales, Lynne Neagle MS, Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, recently launched the National Framework for Social Prescribing in Wales —leading the way within this field in the UK.
To find your nearest Valleys Regional Park Discovery Gateway and to explore the free, nature-based opportunities available near you, please visit: valleysregionalpark.wales/discovery-gateways/