In 2021 the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare launched an innovative project to employ Nature Recovery Rangers at NHS sites in three locations around England. With support from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the rangers arrived on their sites with a remit to run nature engagement activities and act as advocates for biodiversity: leading on food growing, wildlife-friendly gardening, nature walks, tree planting and more.
Throughout the year we collected data to help us evaluate this new and exciting initiative. We monitored the rangers’ activities, conducted surveys of the activity participants; invited written feedback from NHS partners where the rangers were working; and recorded ecological improvements at their sites.
The results – collated in collaboration with academic partners at the University of Suffolk – have given us growing confidence in the benefits of this approach. Our evaluative surveys show that the rangers’ activities successfully met the outcomes we had hoped for – those taking part overwhelmingly agreed that the activities were beneficial for their wellbeing; inspired them to take further action to protect the environment; increased their understanding of the natural environment; and made the area a better place to live, work or visit. More than seven out of ten respondents said they had learnt new skills. The most valued aspects of taking part included being in a natural environment, learning new things, spending time with others, and increasing wellbeing.
As the project progressed, the feedback from NHS partners was just as encouraging, and showed the transformative effect of employing rangers at hospital sites. The comments of these ‘green space leads’ point to the rangers’ impact in enabling sites to:
- put in place green space initiatives they had not previously had the capacity to pursue
- reach out to new audiences and engage new stakeholders
- enhance the sites’ green spaces in ways that were noticeable to staff, and positive for biodiversity.
They also emphasise the popularity of the initiative with NHS staff and its success in moving biodiversity up the agenda. One of the managers commented:
At each of the sites the rangers have led substantial green space enhancement projects. In Bristol, the ranger worked with volunteers and nursing staff to develop a therapeutic space for neuropsychologic patients at Southmead Hospital. Our Liverpool-based ranger engaged children excluded from school, and their staff, to revive a courtyard wildlife garden at Broadgreen Hospital. At London’s Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, the ranger oversaw completion of a green space enhancement programme initiated by CSH, that included an accessible ‘woodland walkway’ and a newly refurbished garden for the chemotherapy suite, with a specially designed wooden shelter where chemotherapy patients can spend time outdoors. Our London ranger also initiated a very successful site-wide gardening competition, involving more than 100 staff in nurturing and bringing to life green patches close to their work areas.
From the earliest days of their employment, all three rangers became an energetic and inspiring presence at their sites, and strong advocates for nature. An early win was the promotion of No Mow May, the national Plantlife campaign, which led to the creation of extensive wildflower meadow areas at each location and was rewarded at Broadgreen Hospital with the unexpected appearance of bee orchids, marsh orchids and pyramidal orchids (this last, a first record for Liverpool). Other ecological impacts chalked up by project include orchard planting and green roof creation in Bristol; woodland restoration with trees, garlic and bluebell bulbs in Liverpool; and pond restoration and the creation of a living wall in London. While the timeframe of the project limited our ability to make year on year comparisons, the consultants RSK are now carrying out a detailed assessment of the project impact at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.
Because of Covid restrictions it was at first difficult to bring external volunteers on to the sites, but over time the rangers involved a variety of local community groups. We were also able to extend our programme to include two interns in Bristol, a Kickstart apprentice in Liverpool, and two healthcare students on placement in London. We were delighted when one of our interns went on to find work in the same field and have since been able to re-employ another of our interns ourselves on a related short-term project.
Each of our partner NHS trusts has been keen to retain their rangers beyond the life of the current initiative, and two have already secured charitable funding to do so. Moreover, we have plans to expand the programme further, with two new rangers already secured for 2022 in East London and Newcastle. Feedback from NHS trusts has also inspired us to establish a new site-specific scheme offering bespoke ecological advice to NHS sites.
More details of the ranger programme can be found in our Green Space for Health 2021/22 Evaluation Report.
The Green Recovery Challenge Fund was developed by Defra and its Arm’s-Length Bodies. It is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.