Category Archives: Natural Environments

Job available: research associate, looking at impacts of woodlands on health

The CRESH team have a new post available. We’re looking for a quantitative researcher to work with us, and our colleagues at OPENspace, on a project looking at the impact of woodland improvement on community health. You can read more about the project in our protocol paper.

The job will be based in Glasgow and has funding until the 31 March 2017. The closing date for applications is 27 March 2016.

Continue reading Job available: research associate, looking at impacts of woodlands on health

More reasons to think green space may be equigenic – a new study of 34 European nations

Today we published a paper which builds on our ideas about equigenic environments – places that can reduce health inequalities – and continues the investigation of associations between nature and health. This new study builds on a paper CRESH’s Rich Mitchell published a long time ago (2008) with Dr Frank Popham, suggesting that populations which have more green space in their neighbourhood tend also to have a smaller health gap between richer and poorer residents. Other people have found something similar (see this for example, or this). The idea that ‘equigenic’ environments might be able to disrupt the usual conversion of inequalities in wealth to inequalities in health has gained attention, partly because it seems so difficult to do anything about the health gap that almost inevitably follows a wealth gap, and partly because politicians and society seem unwilling to tackle the wealth gap itself. Continue reading More reasons to think green space may be equigenic – a new study of 34 European nations

Is multiple environmental deprivation related to population health in Portugal?

By Ana Isabel Ribeiro

In our recently published paper (open access version here) we describe the development of a multivariate measure of physical environmental deprivation for the 278 municipalities of Portugal, and demonstrate its strong relationship with mortality rates. Continue reading Is multiple environmental deprivation related to population health in Portugal?

New MRC funded PhD studentship available, looking at our environment, our biology and healthy ageing

We have an exciting opportunity for a fully funded PhD place at the University of Glasgow. The project will join health geography / epidemiology, environmental science and cell biology. The project will be supervised by Profs Rich MitchellPaul Shiels and Ewan Macdonald. The funding comes from the MRC. The financial package will include a 3.5-year stipend, approved University of Glasgow fees, Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) and a conference allowance. Continue reading New MRC funded PhD studentship available, looking at our environment, our biology and healthy ageing

CRESH research on children and the outdoors mentioned in House of Lords debate

Research by Rich Mitchell was mentioned in a House of Lords debate on 16 May. The debate centred on the contribution of outdoor activities to the United Kingdom economy and to the health and well-being of the population. The research cited was completed  in 2009. Rich Mitchell and Rebecca Shaw followed a group of children (average age 13) undertaking an outdoor education scheme; the John Muir Award. The children completed questionnaires before, during and then 18 months after, their Award experience. The study showed massive inequalities in experience of outdoor environments. Children living in the poorest circumstances were over 6 times more likely to have had no prior experience of wild places than their more affluent peers. The study showed that participation in the Award increased aspirations for visiting the outdoors, particularly among the most deprived children, but it did not affect actual visiting behaviour.
You can find out more about the John Muir Award here
There is a summary of the research here
The full report is here

Greenwash: have the benefits of green space been exaggerated?

IMG_0657

Greenwash” is sometimes used to describe exaggerated or otherwise misleading claims made about a product or company’s environmental benefits.  People are understandably becoming more and more cynical about environmental friendliness claims – but the danger is that genuine environmental benefits are rejected along with the greenwash, which “threatens the whole business rationale for becoming more environmentally friendly” (Futerra 2008). 

I am concerned that the green space and health research agenda is at risk of being overtaken by a form of greenwash, as ironic as that may sound.  Green spaces – also known as natural/vegetated/open spaces – clearly have some social, environmental and economic benefits.  The research of CRESH and many other groups has demonstrated this.  But these benefits are not experienced everywhere, or by everyone.  The same wooded park may be a valued jogging or walking area for some people, but a terrifying no-go area for others.  There is much important research to be done to understand and address the barriers that prevent different groups benefitting from green spaces.  CRESH researchers are among many jointly trying to bridge this knowledge gap.

The greenwash that concerns me is the mantra that ‘green space is good’ – end of story.  At a recent GreenHealth Conference (11th March 2013, Edinburgh) the fascinating results from a four-year Scottish Government funded research programme were presented.  CRESH’s own Rich Mitchell presented on the topic “More green = better health?” and concluded that this is not always the case (see blog post).  Nonetheless, in one of the afternoon discussions one attendee called for less research and more action “because we know green space is good already”.  Additionally, some important Greenspace Scotland work – showing that investment in ten community green space projects across Scotland provides good social, environmental and economic value for money – has been misleadingly reported elsewhere as “Greenspace is good… fact!”  This is greenwash.  It is also an example of a factoid – an assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated until it is considered true (see Cummins and Macintyre’s 2002 paper on how “food deserts” made it into UK policy by such a pathway).  Policy-making based on assumptions is dangerous: Cummins and Macintyre urge policy makers to look at the facts more critically.

Jane Jacobs – the influential American writer on urban planning – wrote about the greenwash surrounding green spaces (or ‘grass fetishes’ as she called it) more than 50 years ago.  In The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961, Random House, NY) she wrote that “In orthodox city planning, neighbourhood open spaces are venerated in an amazingly uncritical fashion…” (p.90).  She qualifies that, while ”parks can and do add great attraction to neighbourhoods that people find attractive for a great variety of other uses”, they may also “exaggerate the dullness, the danger, the emptiness” (p.111).  If the barriers to green space use are not identified and addressed local people cannot be expected to use and benefit from them, regardless of the intentions of well-meaning city planners.  Informing people that ‘green space is good’ won’t help.  The danger is that when their touted benefits don’t materialise, green spaces may fall out of favour, when in truth, and with greater attention to what the evidence tells us, they may have been a great public health resource.  Instead of less research we urgently need to strengthen the evidence base and publicise our findings more widely.  Watch this space.

Author: Liz Richardson