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GPs asked to prescribe bird watching in latest social scheme

Counting the birds in your garden, taking a walk on the beach, and building a bug hotel are all suggestions in a nature on prescription scheme launched in Shetland in partnership with the RSPB.

After a pilot at one GP practice last year, the Nature Prescriptions scheme has now been extended to all 10 surgeries in the NHS Shetland region.

GPs have been provided with leaflets from the RSPB to hand out to patients as part of a bid to help reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety, and increase happiness.

It comes with a calendar of seasonal activities that users can tick off to help them reconnect with nature in their area – examples include make a daisy chain, visit the UK’s most northerly point, and take a walk to search for mountain hares.

While social prescribing schemes are becoming increasingly common, it is thought to be the first such partnership with the RSPB who have several nature reserves in the area.

Dr Chloe Evans, a GP at Scalloway Health Centre, where the scheme was first trialled said: ‘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.’

The RSPB said there were no immediate plans to roll out the scheme more widely but the materials could be easily adapted for any area.

Lauren Peterson, Health Improvement Practitioner for NHS Shetland, said: ‘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.

She said the leaflet helped to highlight 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.’

The RSPB said the health benefits of physical activity are well documented in reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes, diabetes, cancers, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

But there was also a body of evidence that people with a stronger connection to nature are more satisfied with their lives. 



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