A PIONEERING pilot project in Scalloway has led the NHS to roll out nature as a therapy throughout Shetland.
Isles GPs are now able to prescribe nature to their patients following last year's "successful" trial, in partnership with RSPB Scotland, which took place at Scalloway surgery and is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.
It has resulted in the roll out of "Nature Prescriptions" to all 10 GP surgeries across the county. From this week, all of Shetland's GPs will be able to prescribe nature as part of patient treatment.
According to the partners, Nature Prescriptions recognises the benefits of nature in reducing blood pressure, reducing anxiety and increasing happiness as well as tackling the growing disconnection with nature throughout society.
Scalloway Health Centre GP Chloe Evans 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 and allows increased connection with surroundings, which hopefully leads to improved physical and mental health for individuals".
NHS Shetland health improvement practioner Lauren Peterson said the NHS was delighted to be working with the RSPB to promote "such a worthwhile project in Shetland".
She added: "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."
RSPB Scotland have produced a leaflet and a calendar of seasonal activities using local knowledge. It is intended to provide a greater variety of ways to realise the health benefits that nature can provide regardless of health condition, confidence or the sociability of the person. The leaflet will be handed out at each doctor's discretion.
Peterson added: "The fantastic leaflet resource 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, who is the community engagement officer for the RSPB in Shetland, said there was overwhelming evidence that nature has health benefits for body and mind.
She added: "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.
According to the NHS, 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 and that connections to nature come from more than physical activity or exercise in the outdoors alone.