Delivering the health and wellbeing benefits of the natural environment

A successful event held at Hinchingbrooke County Park in March 2019 and organised by Natural Cambridgeshire, the Local Nature Partnership for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The event showcased the latest research on the links between health and the environment and the work of prominent experts and practitioners.

This Cambridgeshire and Peterborough event will bring together innovative leaders from a variety of professions to explore how improving access to the natural environment can lead to better health outcomes.

Speakers and attendees were diverse, bringing together national experts in public health and environmental management as well as examples of successful community engagement programs. The conference included presentations, plenary panels, breakout sessions, and moderated discussions. View the agenda here.

Speaker profiles

Will Day – Chair of the conference

Will is a Fellow of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). He is also Chair of the Sainsbury’s Foundation Advisory Board, a member of the Council of Ambassadors of WWF (UK), a Board member of SDGLead, a Danish impact investment consultancy, Chairman of On Purpose, an NGO developing leaders for Social Enterprise, and Sustainability Advisor to PwC UK.

Previously, Will was Chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, the UK government’s independent advisory body. He was involved with the establishment and early years of Comic Relief, a major UK fundraising and grant-giving organisation, and was its first Grants Director for Africa. Has been Chairman of the BBC Children in Need Appeal, and Special Advisor to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) between 2004 and 2009. For twelve years he was a Trustee, and latterly Chairman, of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Until recently, he Co-Chaired the Kant Nature Partnership, and until May 2018 was Chairman of Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP).

Earlier in his career, he worked for Save the Children Fund and Oxfam in humanitarian relief programmes in East Africa, was Director of the micro-savings and credit organisation Opportunity, and CEO of CARE International UK for 8 years. He also worked as a producer and presenter for the BBC World Service and was an Independent Assessor for the public appointments process for the UK government’s Department or Culture, Media and Sport.

Dr Nicola Dempsey

Dr Nicola Dempsey is joint lead, with Dr Kevin Thwaites on work package 4 of the Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature project. Dr Dempsey leads on action research and on the implications for governance, policy and landscape management and on stakeholder engagement.

Nicola is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield and leads the Place-keeping research group, which examines sustainable approaches to long-term landscape management through post-occupancy evaluation. Nicola will lead on the action research component and on the implications for governance, policy and landscape management and on stakeholder engagement.

Professor Catharine Ward Thompson

Catharine Ward Thompson is Professor of Landscape Architecture and directs OPENspace – the research centre for inclusive access to outdoor environments – at the University of Edinburgh. Her work focuses on inclusive access to outdoor environments and links between landscape and health. It includes work with children, young people and older people; it covers environment-behaviour interactions, historic landscapes and contemporary needs, and salutogenic environments.

Catharine has led several multidisciplinary research collaborations investigating relationships between environment and health, including the GreenHealth project. She directed the I’DGO (Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors) research consortium, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, focused on the benefits and barriers to getting outdoors for older people and their quality of life. This has been followed by another Research Councils UK funded project looking at Mobility, Mood and Place for older people – with an emphasis on positive experiences and restorative outdoor environments. This project used innovative techniques to explore neural activity evident in older participants while they moved between different types of environment; it also considered the influence of outdoor environments over the life course on wellbeing in older age and used co-creation and intergenerational workshops to develop design ideas for the future.

Catharine recently co-authored a report for WHO’s European Regional office on links between urban green spaces and health and has advised on the implementation of the Place Standard developed by NHS Health Scotland and Architecture & Design Scotland.


Sponsored by

SmithsonHill who seek to develop a commercial space in Cambridge dedicated to advancing the AgriTech and associated science and technology sectors.


Organisations presenting

Living Sport is a charity dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough through participation in sport and physical activity.


PECT is a sustainability charity helping to protect and enhance the environment. PECT was originally set up as Peterborough Environment City Trust.


PCVS is a registered charity set up by local organisations in 1980 as an umbrella and network organisation to the voluntary sector in Peterborough.

Developing with Nature Toolkit

Natural Cambridgeshire Local Nature Partnership (LNP) wishes to enhance the natural environment of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and to see all developments contribute to our policy objective of achieving a net gain in biodiversity through new development.

Greater Cambridgeshire is one of the fastest growing areas within England, with plans for significant additional development and major infrastructure to provide tens of thousands of new homes and significant new employment opportunities over the coming decades. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) promotes sustainable development, which requires moving from net losses in biodiversity to net gains and for development to enhance the natural environment, including natural capital or ecosystem services.

Our natural environment underpins our economy and our wellbeing by providing wide-ranging benefits such as clean water and air, food, timber, carbon capture, flood protection and recreation. However, the natural environment is increasingly constrained due to the ongoing impacts of climate change. Natural vegetation, ponds and lakes provide natural cooling in urban environments, trees can help reduce localised air pollution, and high quality greenspaces provide access to nature and have been shown to have multiple benefits for physical and mental health.

New developments which adhere to sound sustainability principles ensure the protection and enhancement of this natural capital by creating high quality multifunctional habitats that support common, threatened and, or declining species. The provision of on-site and wider landscape-scale high quality natural environments also enhances the new development and attracts additional investments. Conversely, new developments neglecting this approach, diminishes both the quantity and quality of the natural environment, its biodiversity and the essential benefits and services these provide.

We’ve developed a Toolkit to help developers and infrastructure providers to demonstrate their commitment to achieving a net biodiversity gain to the public, local authorities or shareholders. The Toolkit comprises a simple list of 10 Things to do for Nature. The Toolkit is primarily intended for major developments requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment (new settlements, major urban extensions, housing developments above 100 dwellings, commercial developments greater than 1 Ha or 1,000m² floor space, mixed use developments greater than 2 Ha, or major transport infrastructure projects). It should be used at the very outset of planning new developments, and ideally at the time of selecting sites to acquire for development.

An assessment template and example scoring matrix is available in our resources section.

Healthy communities

The Cambridgeshire to which we aspire will have healthy communities in healthy environments. We will pioneer initiatives to ensure that green space and access to nature help people to enjoy and appreciate the nature around them, leading to healthier and happier lives.

The Naturally Healthy Sub-Group held their first meeting on Tuesday 20 January at the offices of Natural England in Cambridge. This is a group of public health professionals, conservation organisations, local authorities, local charities, government organisations, physical activity professionals and university research professionals coming together to promote and develop a evidence base that clearly demonstrates the health and wellbeing benefits of being active in the natural environment.

A Biosphere for the future

What do Brighton and Lewes Downs, Galloway & south Ayrshire, the Isle of Man, north Devon, Wester Ross and the Dyfi valley have in common? They have all been granted designated Biosphere Reserve status by UNESCO – model regions for sustainable development and test sites for conservation approaches where communities collaborate to live in harmony with their environment.

Funding of £9,950 has been received from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to research what is necessary to bring Biosphere Reserve status to the Cambridgeshire Fens. Made possible by the money raised by National Lottery Players, the project will focus on discovering what is needed to achieve this international UNESCO accolade. The project will enable the Wildlife Trust, working with a broad range of organisations and interests from all sectors of Cambridgeshire life  – conservation groups, academics, businesses, farming sector, local and regional government – to identify what the Biosphere idea could mean for the Cambridgeshire Fens, and to create a dedicated ‘Route Map’ of how to achieve it.

Working on a landscape scale through its Living Landscapes gave the Wildlife Trust the idea for a potential Cambridgeshire Fens Biosphere. Kate Carver, the Wildlife Trust’s Great Fen Project Manager said: “In a changing world, imaginative and innovative solutions are needed to tackle major challenges such as how we can protect the natural environment for everyone to enjoy whilst satisfying the needs of growing populations for homes and jobs; the key is communities working together to achieve sustainable development. We are thrilled that support from players of the National Lottery will enable us to move closer to a possible application to UNESCO.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England said

On behalf of National Lottery Players we are delighted to be able to fund this project that will enable the Wildlife Trust to work with partners to assess the feasibility of applying for a Biosphere Reserve Destination for the important heritage which forms the Cambridgeshire Fens.