This is the urban forestry research paper – flourishing trees, flourishing minds; looking at how urban trees may improve mental wellbeing. The research paper forms part of the Forestry Commission Research Report Trees, people and the built environment – Proceedings of the Urban Trees Research Conference 13-14 April 2011
Flourishing trees, flourishing minds: nearby trees may improve mental wellbeing among housing association tenants.
Interventions to create even a small change in the average level of mental wellbeing across the population could have very high economic and social returns. Decision makers would thus be more likely to allocate space and funding for urban trees if a positive relationship to the mental wellbeing of the surrounding population can be evidenced.
This study undertook a ‘natural experiment’. It used a validated scale to quantifiably assess the effects of residential trees on mental wellbeing, within largely randomly assigned participants living in housing association properties, with the significant environmental and socio-economic variables held broadly constant. It used a bespoke scale, set against statements, to quantifiably assess participant’s general perceptions of residential trees and this relationship on mental wellbeing.
Tenants with high nearby tree cover had a higher mean reported mental wellbeing than those with negligible levels, indicating that nearby trees may provide aids in improving mental wellbeing for certain groups. There was a generally positive response to nearby trees and a desire from those with negligible existing levels for increased tree cover. While avoiding sweeping claims, the implications are that investments in residential trees could result in higher mean levels of mental wellbeing for certain groups, with the associated benefits this brings to the individual and wider community.
The common assumption that contact with nature fosters mental wellbeing and reduces the stress of urban living is seemingly as old as urbanisation itself (Ulrich, 1993). The first great act of greenspace creation in modern history, the Victorian park, occurred because the park-makers believed intuitively in the healing and redemptive values of nature (Nicholson-
Lord, 2006). Greater pressure on urban land is now limiting the space available for trees (Britt and Johnston, 2008), thus intuitive arguments for increased tree cover carry little weight with decision makers who have to justify all outgoing costs. The resources allocated to urban forestry programs are heavily influenced by the extent to which rigorous research
demonstrates that such measures improve outcomes and are cost effective.
It is now accepted that interventions to create even a small change in the average level of mental wellbeing across the population could have very high economic and social returns ( Jenkins et al., 2008); thus decision makers will be more likely to allocate space and funding for urban trees if a positive relationship to the mental wellbeing of the surrounding population can be evidenced.
This research aimed to objectively assess the potential of nearby trees to improve the mental wellbeing of residents living in poorer urban communities, and to understand the intrinsically linked issues of how these residents perceive trees and negotiate this relationship
with mental wellbeing.
Full paper: Winson. Flourishing trees flourishing minds