Creating wildlife-rich wetlands like ponds, streams, wetland parks and rain gardens in deprived urban communities could help level up inequalities in wellbeing across the UK, according to a new report from the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust (WWT).

Currently, people in the poorest urban and ethnic communities are twice as likely as those in more affluent groups to live in neighbourhoods without good quality blue or green spaces. Some research suggests this differing access to nature-rich areas could be associated with health inequalities.

The report highlights how wetlands can help low-income urban communities, which are frequently most at risk from the harmful impacts of poor mental health and the climate crisis, through relieving stress, cooling cities, reducing air and water pollution, alleviating flooding and boosting biopersity.

In addition, the report outlines how blue spaces (environments that feature open water, such as wetlands) directly reduce stress more than green spaces alone. This could be due to the particularly wide range of stimuli wetland nature provides which engage all the senses. The light, soundscapes, changing patterns on water, and meaningful personal associations associated with aquatic settings may all reduce stress.

The report collates evidence that access to wetlands improves health and sense of community, saving the NHS huge sums, as well as cooling cities, reducing flooding and curbing air pollution.

“Most human settlements grew around a water source and wetlands long used to be an integral part of our great towns and cities,” said Dr James Robinson, the WWT’s director of conservation. “However, new developments have swallowed many of them up and worryingly, there are no UK-wide plans to increase the amount of blue or green nature in urban areas, despite the huge value they provide.”

London’s natural spaces alone are estimated to save the NHS £950m a year in physical and mental health costs. Robinson said creating new urban wetlands across the UK required more support and funding from the public and private sectors: “The opportunities that wetlands offer to enhance and extend our lives are established but are not being grasped.”

The press release from WWT can be read here, and a piece in the Guardian can be found here. The full report from WWT –  Creating Urban Wetlands for Wellbeing. A Route Map’  – can be found here.

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