COVID-19: A green and healthy recovery

Barrier free path in Liminganlahti. Picture: Saša Dolinšek

If we want a green and healthy recovery from COVID-19, Parks and Protected Areas will need political commitment and sustained funding.

Positive contact with nature is important for human health and well-being. There is a range of compelling evidence on its contribution to addressing physical and mental health conditions, preventing public health problems and promoting an active lifestyle across all life stages. Such insights are opening up common ground between the health and environmental sectors – the urgent action needed to protect and enhance biodiversity and address the climate change emergency can be integrated with ways to secure the health and well-being of current and future generations

Europe has a well-developed and diverse system of parks and protected areas and a range of progressive policies for biodiversity and green infrastructure at the European and national level.  Unlike other parts of the world, many people live and work in these places. It is estimated that the EUROPARC network of sustainable tourism charter parks alone have nearly 60 million people who either live in or within one hour of them (over 10% of Europe’s population of 508 million people) while a further 74 million people visit them each year.

Europe’s parks and protected areas are well placed to support health outcomes for people. For many, the delivery of health objectives by parks and protected areas is a natural extension of their traditional role in providing for public understanding, enjoyment and sustainable use of nature by everyone. This contribution is increasingly being recognised in health policy and practice in several European countries. Calls for “biodiversity in all policies” are increasingly mirrored and complemented by calls for “health in all policies”.

Europe’s parks and protected areas are on the door step. There are particular opportunities to contribute to health outcomes and reduce health inequalities for many of the parks and protected areas that are found in or close to towns and cities. Equally this proximity to some of the most densely populated areas in the world brings a unique set of management challenges which need to be addressed. There is a range of good practice to draw on in many European countries which shows how this can be done effectively.

Realising the potential of Europe’s ‘natural health centres’. The delivery of health outcomes from parks and protected areas and other “green infrastructure” goes hand in hand with the need for the better protection and restoration of biodiversity in Europe, and to raise social awareness about the importance of conserving nature in tackling the climate emergency.  Partnership working, political commitment and sustained funding are all crucial to success.