Nature: just what the doctor ordered

GPs in Shetland are now able to prescribe nature to their patient’s thanks to a pioneering partnership project

A partnership project between NHS Shetland and RSPB Scotland, which is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, has been extended following a successful pilot. From this week, all of Shetland’s GPs will be able to prescribe nature as part of their patient’s treatment.

The successful pilot, which took place at Scalloway surgery last year, has led to the rollout of “Nature Prescriptions” to all ten GP surgeries across the county.

Nature Prescription recognises the benefits of nature in reducing blood pressure, reducing anxiety and increasing happiness as well as the growing disconnection with nature throughout society.

RSPB Scotland have produced a leaflet and a calendar of seasonal activities using local knowledge and understanding of connecting people with nature. It attempts to provide a greater variety of ways to realise the health benefits that nature can provide regardless of health condition, confidence or if you are a sociable or more solitary person. The leaflet will be handed out at each doctor’s discretion.

Dr Chloe Evans, a GP at Scalloway Health Centre, said: “I want to take part because the project provides a structured way for patients to access nature as part of a non-drug approach to health problems. The benefits to patients are that it is free, easily accessible, allows increased connection with surroundings which hopefully leads to improved physical and mental health for individuals”. 

Lauren Peterson, Health Improvement Practitioner for NHS Shetland, said: “The Health Improvement Department of the NHS are delighted to be working alongside RSPB Scotland to be able to promote such a worthwhile project in Shetland.  Through the Nature Prescriptions project GPs and nurses can explain and promote the many benefits which being outdoors can have on physical and mental wellbeing.  The fantastic leaflet resource which has been produced by RSPB Scotland assists in highlighting the many benefits which are to be gained from being outdoors in the natural environment.  It also provides inspiration in the forms of different ideas of what to do out in the fresh air which may help to ‘Nature Your Soul’ at different times of the year”.

Karen MacKelvie is a Community Engagement Officer for RSPB Scotland. She said: “There is overwhelming evidence that nature has health benefits for body and mind. Shetland is “stappit foo” of natural wonders. Whenever you open your front door you can hear or see some kind of natural delight – be it a gull or a lapwing calling or the roll of a heathery hill. However, despite many doctors using the outdoors as a resource to combat ill-health, far fewer recommend the same strategy to their patients. So, we saw an opportunity to design a leaflet that helps doctors describe the health benefits of nature and provides plenty of local ideas to help doctors fire-up their patients’ imaginations and get them outdoors.

It’s been a delight to work in partnership with GPs on this and it’s great for us because we get to help connect people with nature that we wouldn’t normally see at our reserves, events or on our guided walks. Helping people connect with nature is a great way to inspire them to protect it.”

The benefits of physical activity are well documented, with regular physical activity reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes, diabetes, cancers, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

There is now a body of evidence that people with a stronger connection to nature experience more life satisfaction, positive affect and vitality at levels associated with established predictors of satisfaction, such as personal income.

It’s widely understood that connections to nature come from more than physical activity or exercise in the outdoors alone and that’s the crux of the project.

Beach photo_walking_Karen MacKelvie

© Karen Mackelvie

Cover image: © Ian Francis


  1. My sister has been doing her EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) on this. She’s been working with kids who have been excluded from school and how things like being outdoors, participating in sport and working on allotments can help them change their approach to life.

  2. Ashley says:

    It’s not “rocket science” trying to understand why being out in the natural world and looking at NATURE is so beneficial. After all, we are natural beings, we belong to the natural world! What is difficult to understand is why we appear to want to destroy the earth that feeds us! The earth is our only spaceship!

  3. Andrew Gorton says:

    In 2010 I joined a volunteer conservation group which was part-funded by the NHS with just this aim in mind. I was suffering from low mood and depression at the time, and it certainly did me the power of good. And I initially just went because the work (nature surveys, invasive species control, among a lot else) sounded interesting. Met and worked with a great group of people as well, and did something useful for the environment.

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