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How trees and green space support mental health and the economy

By Juno Baker
21st March 2022

A report last December from Forest Research demonstrates the economic value of woodland. But how is that relevant to London? And what’s CPRE London doing to protect London’s trees and green spaces? Following the UN’s International Day of Forests, we look at why trees matter and how you can help us save them.

Anyone who loves nature is likely to tell you that walking in woods lifts their mood. Some say nature helps them relax. Many will attribute benefits to fresh air or looking at greenery.

Forest Research reported that visits to the UK’s woodlands save the NHS – and the wider economy – about £185 million a year. (And that’s at 2020 prices!)

The savings include the ‘avoided costs’ of:

  • people visiting GPs
  • drug prescriptions
  • inpatient care
  • social services, and
  • estimates of working days lost due to mental health issues.

Street trees

The research builds on findings from several earlier reports – including one in 2015 suggesting a reduced need for anti-depressants among Londoners living in leafy streets.

Forest Research also points out that it’s likely to have underestimated the values quoted.

“They are based upon conservative estimates of the costs of mental health issues,” says their website, “while the number of regular woodland visitors is based upon year-round visiting habits of woodland.”

London is home to over 15,000 species of tree. The most common street trees are whitebeams and London planes, but there are also many more including American sweetgums, Persian ironwoods and trident maples.

In fact we have so many trees – 21% ground cover – that, in 2002, the Forestry Commission recognised London as an urban forest.

As well as relieving stress and lifting our moods, urban trees absorb pollution, cool the air and help manage water run-off and flooding. They provide habitats for other species too, such as fungi, invertebrates, lichens, birds, bats and insects.

Help protect London’s trees and green spaces

The pandemic has shown us how much we need our trees and green spaces.

So, at CPRE London we’re calling for at least a 20% increase in canopy cover by 2050. More planting is essential, but trees also need to be cared for if they’re to become established. That means careful species selection and investment in aftercare.

We’re also working with local and London-wide partners to establish green spaces for all.

If you’d like to get involved, you can do to get started:

We live in an era where humanity faces unprecedented challenges, such as climate change and global pandemic. But by protecting our trees and green spaces, we can create an environment that benefits all Londoners – now and in the future.

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