Image for Nature: in Shetland, it’s just what the doctor ordered

Nature: in Shetland, it’s just what the doctor ordered

GPs in Shetland are now able to prescribe nature to their patients, thanks to a partnership between the NHS and the RSPB

GPs in Shetland are now able to prescribe nature to their patients, thanks to a partnership between the NHS and the RSPB

From this week, all of Shetland’s GPs will be able to prescribe nature to patients as part of their treatment. Following a pilot at Scalloway surgery last year, the project ­– Nature Prescriptions – has now been rolled out to the 10 GP surgeries across the county. It is a partnership between NHS Shetland and RSPB Scotland.

Nature Prescriptions recognises the benefits of nature on reducing blood pressure, reducing anxiety and increasing happiness, as well as the growing disconnection with nature throughout society.

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Dr Chloe Evans, a GP at Scalloway Health Centre, said: “I want to take part because the project provides a structured way for patients to access nature as part of a non-drug approach to health problems. The benefits to patients are that it is free, easily accessible, allows increased connection with surroundings which hopefully leads to improved physical and mental health for individuals.”

RSPB Scotland has created a leaflet and a calendar of seasonal activities in nature. The leaflet will be handed out at each doctor’s discretion. Suggestions include listening to birdsong, talking a walk and picking up driftwood.

People watch gannets on Unst, Hermaness. Image: Ian Francis

“There is overwhelming evidence that nature has health benefits for body and mind,” said Karen MacKelvie, a community engagement officer for RSPB Scotland. “Shetland is ‘stappit foo’ [packed full] of natural wonders. Whenever you open your front door you can hear or see some kind of natural delight – be it a gull or a lapwing calling or the roll of a heathery hill.

“However, despite many doctors using the outdoors as a resource to combat ill-health, far fewer recommend the same strategy to their patients. So, we saw an opportunity to design a leaflet that helps doctors describe the health benefits of nature and provides plenty of local ideas to help doctors fire up their patients’ imaginations and get them outdoors.”

GPs in Shetland are now able to prescribe nature to their patients, thanks to a partnership between the NHS and the RSPB

The benefits of physical activity are well documented, with regular physical activity reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes, diabetes, cancers, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

There is a growing body of evidence that people who have a stronger connection to nature experience improved life satisfaction.

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