NHS Lothian publishes ground-breaking biodiversity audit

Scottish health board first to carry out comprehensive assessment of its green spaces

The audit will explore the biodiversity of NHS Lothian's estate, including the Cyrenians Community Garden at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Image, Will Collier

NHS Lothian is the first health board in Scotland to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the biodiversity of the green spaces across its estate.

The move is part of an ambitious plan to reduce the health board’s carbon footprint and to use its green spaces to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities it serves.

Working with partners Greenspace Scotland as part of a project funded by Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation; NHS Lothian commissioned research consultancy, Natural Capital Solutions, to conduct a ‘biodiversity audit and climate change assessment’.

Research shows contact with nature and access to greenspace is particularly good for our mental health and wellbeing

The move will help NHS Lothian to realise the full potential of its estate, not only as an environmental asset. but also as an amenity offering health benefits to the wider community.

The work also provides NHS Lothian with a means of identifying how best to manage its green spaces to meet its sustainability goals.

Dr Jane Hopton, programme director and sustainability lead for NHS Lothian, said: “Climate change affects not only our environment, but also the health of our patients and communities.

“Our green spaces make an important contribution to improving air quality, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, which in turn is better for our health.

“Making the most of our green spaces is not simply a ‘nice thing to do’, it is an important part of our sustainability plan and sits alongside other priorities such as reducing emissions associated with medical gases, transport and travel, reducing waste, and improving our energy use.”

With 81 hectares of green space across 94 sites, NHS Lothian’s estate provides habitats for diverse species.

And the plants, trees, hedges and scrub that are grown in these areas capture carbon from the atmosphere, offsetting human emissions and cleaning the air of pollution from nearby roads and car parks.

The green landscape can also be used for nature-based health interventions such as gardening and walking activities, helping to improve the lives of NHS patients and staff.

Dr Hopton said: “There is growing evidence of the positive impact of green spaces and natural environments on our health.

“Research from the World Health Organization and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence shows contact with nature and access to greenspace is particularly good for our mental health and wellbeing.

“And this biodiversity audit provides a great opportunity to explore ways to unlock these benefits for more people.”

Our green spaces make an important contribution to improving air quality, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, which in turn is better for our health

Ian Mackenzie, green health programme manager at Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation, said: “The importance of biodiversity and natural capital in delivering health benefits is at the core of the foundation’s Green Health Strategy.

“As a result of the pandemic, there has been a re-appreciation of outdoor space and the value it brings, and this report helps recognise how NHS Lothian’s estate can support a green recovery.”

Alison Holt, director of Natural Capital Solutions, adds: “This project has delivered the tools to predict how changes to the greenspaces and built environment of the NHS Lothian estate impacts on its ability to reduce carbon emissions, clean the air, and improve physical and mental health.

“A strategy on how to increase the provision of these important public benefits across the estate can now be created.

“And NHS Lothian has set a precedent for other health boards in Scotland, and beyond.”

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