Ward Thompson C, Silveirinha de Oliveira E, Tilley S, Elizalde A, Botha W, Briggs A, Cummins S, Leyland A, Roe J, Aspinall PA, Brookfield K, Mitchell R. Health impacts of environmental and social interventions designed to increase deprived communities' access to urban woodlands: a mixed-methods study. Public Health Res (Southampt). 2018 Jun 29;6:236. doi: 10.3310/phr06XXX.


BACKGROUND: Contact with natural environments can bring health benefits but research is lacking on how changes in access to natural environments might improve health, especially for deprived populations.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the health impacts of woodland environment interventions intended to increase communities’ engagement with these woodlands.

DESIGN: A prospective study of Forestry Commission Scotland’s Woods In and Around Towns (WIAT) programme in deprived communities to enhance public access to natural environments. The study investigated the impact that WIAT had on community-level mental health over time.

SETTING: Three intervention and three control woodland sites, and associated communities within 1.5 km of the woodlands, located in central Scotland and eligible for WIAT support.

PARTICIPANTS: A core community survey was administered at each site in three waves, at baseline and after each phase of intervention (n = 5460, panel A). The completed survey contained a nested longitudinal cohort (n = 609, panel B). Community members also undertook 6-monthly environmental audits at all sites (n = 256) and participated in post-intervention focus groups (n = 34).

INTERVENTIONS: Phase 1 involved physical changes to the woodlands, including footpaths, entrances and vegetation. Phase 2 involved community engagement events promoting woodland use.

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