NUI Galway Research Demonstrates the Need for Nature to be Healthy

Oct 22 2020 Posted: 11:03 IST

Researchers at NUI Galway have found that being in nature makes us feel better, more connected to one another, and helps us to care for the environment. The NEAR Health project, jointly funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Health Service Executive (HSE), was one of the first in Ireland to investigate how Nature and Environment can help society Attain and Restore Health. The findings emphasise the need to invest in and plan for greater access and use of nature-rich outdoor public spaces, ethically and sustainably.

People value nature for multiple reasons, for example social, spiritual, emotional, environmental as well as economic, but some people feel disconnected from nature. Recognising the lack of accessible “how to” guides, the NUI Galway researchers have produced a toolkit to help people individually and, in their communities, to engage with nature. The toolkit highlights:

  • how people value and experience nature, health and wellbeing
  • the barriers and bridges to nature connection
  • what people want from their healthy future environment
  • how nature-based activities benefit people’s health and wellbeing.

These insights are supported by in-depth, participatory research and collaboration with almost 600 people from communities across Ireland with relevance for individuals, groups, voluntary sector, practitioners and educators, health professionals, policy-makers, planners and local authorities.

Workshop participants co-created action plans for a healthy future environment which are a template to live more sustainably helping to build community resilience, as the public make transformative changes post-pandemic and adapt to climate change. 

Nature-based activities (NBAs) in Ireland include sea swimming, surf therapy, sailing, nature walks and bat monitoring. Involving a diverse mix of groups, including asylum seekers, those who are less able-bodied, and those recovering from ill-health including mental health, across the lifecourse, benefits included enhanced social connection and wellbeing, reduced stress and anxiety.

Dr Caitriona Carlin, NEAR Health project leader, said: “These activities build a sense of pride, and purpose; encouraging people to be more active as well as promoting environmental awareness. Clean-ups and other citizen science initiatives help our environment and contribute valuable records to the National Biodiversity Data Centre, while helping to implement Getting Ireland Active, as part of Ireland’s National Physical Activity Plan, and meet other Healthy Ireland targets. Momentum could be gained from funding partnerships across sports, recreation, health, education and nature conservation sectors. In Ireland, biodiverse spaces have high potential for activities that foster a greater sense of connectedness (with ourselves, with others, and with nature), as well as promoting an ethic of care.

“Connecting with nature helps us make sense of the world in changing times, and helps us to feel better, but not everyone has equal access or opportunity to do.We need to share, promote, and celebrate new stories and experiences about how and why a healthy, biodiverse environment matters for our health and wellbeing, and lead to a deeper care for the environment.”

The toolkit is available at

The full report is available at or view highlights of the project at

This project is jointly funded by HSE and EPA. The EPA Research Programme is a Government of Ireland initiative funded by the Department of Environment, Communications, and Climate Action. It is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has the statutory function of co-ordinating and promoting environmental research.


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