Healthy Parks, Healthy People – gathering the evidence

07 April 2014 | Article

We know that protected areas — or parks — conserve biodiversity, store carbon, provide clean air and water, underpin tourism and provide many recreation opportunities.

Less well known are the benefits that parks provide to human health. In 2000, Parks Victoria, an IUCN Member, launched its Healthy Parks Healthy People programme to promote the message that spending active recreation time in a well cared for protected area leads to greater health of both individuals and society.

The programme has forged partnerships with several health organizations such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Arthritis Victoria, Asthma Victoria and the Heart Foundation and is snowballing into a global campaign.

The first Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP) Congress, held in 2010, attracted 1,200 delegates from 37 countries and helped engage new players from a range of sectors. Several parks organizations are introducing the approach including the US National Parks Service.

With the evidence of the health benefits of parks growing steadily, IUCN is now gathering case studies from all over the world that will be integrated into guidelines to provide decision makers with the latest information and advice needed to implement the HPHP approach.

In Scotland, three neighbouring countryside Ranger Services have worked with the National Health Service Tayside Health Board to establish programmes of outdoor nature-focused activity to supplement traditional forms of care provided for mental health support service users. The results being seen include increased confidence and self-esteem among patients, increased physical activity and feeling of well-being and a reduced dependence on prescription drugs. 

The Best Practice Guidelines, being prepared by a multidisciplinary, international Task Force under the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, will cover the whole spectrum of protected areas from national parks to local urban parks as the approach is suitable to all such green space. Several case studies have already been gathered and a call for wider submissions will be made in the near future.

The Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia have a rich biodiversity and are an important source of water. At the heart of the mountain range lies the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest (CCPF), a 401,313 hectare protected area that was created in 2002 with strong support from Conservation International (CI), an IUCN Member. The mountains are vulnerable to illegal logging, forest clearing and wildlife hunting.

Communities living close to these forests rely on them for survival but are often driven to hunt endangered species or collect timber to raise money for essentials such as food and medical supplies. Since 2001, CI has supported local communities and government agencies responsible for managing the protected area. Demonstrating the economic value of natural resource conservation has helped develop long term partnerships, better land management and improved public policy. The work is central to CI’s mission of empowering societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the wellbeing of humanity. 

The Healthy Parks Healthy People Best Practice Guidelines will be available mid-2015 but the IUCN World Parks Congress in November this year will be pivotal for promoting the approach through an awareness-raising presentation and a final review workshop as part of the Improving Health and Well-Being stream. As well as being published in print format, the guidelines will also be available online and continually updated, incorporating multimedia content.

For more information contact John Senior, Project Manager IUCN/WCPA Healthy Parks Healthy People Best Practice Guidelines jgsenior@bigpond.com