Scientific evidence shows that forests can have a significant impact on human health, for example visits to forests can lower blood pressure and pulse rates, and reduce cortisol levels. They can also improve people’s mental, social and physical wellbeing. However evidence of these benefits is scattered across many sources and is not properly understood as a whole.
In autumn 2017, Forest Research’s Liz O’Brien was invited to become a member of an expert group concerned with ‘Forests, Human Health and Well-being’ within ‘FOREST EUROPE'. FOREST EUROPE is an initiative which brings together experts from across Europe to take part in high level discussions and cooperation about forestry policies. It aims to shape a future where forests contribute effectively to human well-being, a healthy environment and economic development in Europe and across the globe.
An important task of the Forests and Human Health and Well-being Expert Group is to collate and review the existing scientific evidence published in Europe on forests and their contribution to human health and well-being. The review will bring together evidence in research papers, project outcomes, best practices, and surveys in the field of human health and well-being.
The group’s most recent meeting was in June 2018 (in the Biosphere Reserve of Urdaiabai near Bilbao, Spain) and was attended by fifteen experts who worked to confirm the scope and content of the review. Once complete, in March 2019, the knowledge, experience and best practice it uncovers will be presented at a workshop in Vienna to FOREST EUROPE signatories and observers.
The Expert Group will also develop recommendations for the design of forest policies promoting the benefits of forests for human health and well-being. Demographic change, modern lifestyles and increasing urbanisation make this an increasingly important function of forests and if effectively delivered it will improve visibility of the contribution of forests and forestry to the expectations and needs of contemporary society.
Post-script: the final report from the group and a video describing the benefits of forests for human health and wellbeing are available.