Naturally Healthy May


Now that the weather is warmer there are some fantastic opportunities to #StepOutside this month and you can join in one of the range of public events happening in Devon as part of Naturally Healthy May . This includes natural history / wildlife walks, family events, a chance to try local crafts e.g. weaving events, local archaeological heritage visits, conservation work parties and more. These are organised by the Devon Local Nature Partnership (@Devon_LNP) with a range of partner organisations in the region (Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT), RSPB, Active Devon, East Devon District Council, etc).

You can also read more about the health and wellbeing benefits of visiting natural environments in previous blog posts here.


Insights on the health and wellbeing value of the Pebblebed Heaths

This has been a hugely enjoyable project to be involved in, not least as it has been an opportunity to meet and hear perspectives from lots of interesting people, and has been a huge learning process. And of course I’ve been able to visit the Heaths and call it work for a few months!

Now that this project has come to an end (although it won’t be the end of this strand of work for me personally), here are some of the insights and highlights – including the main results and conclusions of the economic health and wellbeing valuation, the workshop engaging people from a range of relevant organisations, and other insights. The full report will shortly be available via the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust (EDPHCT) website. A huge thank you to staff at Clinton Devon Estates  / EDPHCT, and to Becca Lovell and other staff at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) for their assistance on this project.

So how many people are visiting the Pebblebed Heaths and what events are there?

A variety of events are carried out each year on the Heaths for the public including family events, guided walks, schools groups, cycling races, horseriding events, practical conservation work parties, etc (see below). These are organised by a range of organisations including the the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust (EDPHCT), the RSPB, Devon Wildlife Trust and East Devon District Council, as well as external events run by a range of other organisations (e.g. the Commando Challenge and the Knobbler bike challenge) which overall in 2017 raised approximately £80,750 for local charities. Below is a summary of just the organised ones that we know about (and that registered with EDPHCT) – there are many more that we haven’t been able to capture figures on.

Summary of activities and events on the Pebblebed Heaths in 2017

Total no. of events 814
Total no. of participants 3339
Total no. of participant hours per year 17931.5
Event / activity No. of events / activities No. of participants
Guided walks 23 435
Practical conservation work 109 145
Ecological survey 272 63
Livestock checks 380 16
Horse riding 4 80
Cycling 5 235
Orienteering 2 75
Educational activity (schools / FE colleges) 7 394
Other events (family etc) 12 1896
Total 814 3339


Workshop on developing partnerships to increase the health and wellbeing value people get from the Heaths

As part of the project we held a workshop at Budleigh Salterton Health and Wellbeing Hub at the end of February – this workshop was well-attended and brought together 28 participants from 17 different organisations working in the environmental, public health and disability fields in the region. There were a number of interesting insights from the presentations and  discussions, including suggestions on how to develop more joined-up and collaborative ways of working with the plethora of organisations doing valuable work in this area, and some simple ways of improving access for mobility scooters / trampers.


Results and conclusions from the economic valuation on the health and wellbeing value of the Heaths

The Pebblebed Heaths are associated with an important health and wellbeing value of at least £0.4m annually relating to physical activity linked to their recreational use. This figure relates only to the minority of visitors who exercise on the Heaths on a regular basis. The amount all estimated visitors are willing to pay to visit the site (travel cost) equates to around £1.9m annually. The results from the different economic valuation methods are provided below:

Valuation method Total annual economic value No. of visits / visitors estimate based on Age range (if applicable) Notes & distinguishing features of tool
Travel cost method £1.9m 422,495 visits N/A Based on willingness to pay to get to site
Outdoor Recreational Valuation (ORVal) £1.7m 571,919 visits N/A Based on MENE data & travel cost and complex algorithms
WHO Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) £0.4m 3097 (regular visitors – 3×30 mins per week; brisk pace) 20-74 yrs Assesses value of health impact of exercising;
MOVES tool (University of East Anglia / Sport England) £0.6m 3097 (regular visitors – 3×30 mins per week; brisk pace) 16-61+ Similar to HEAT; uses (QALYs); differentiates between age groups

These estimates do not include the important value of the mental health benefits (or qualitative values) associated with visiting the Heaths, as tools for calculating these are still being developed.  The MOVES estimates also show that the health and wellbeing benefits as measured by economic value are much greater for older people.

The return on investment for the health economic impact only (measured by HEAT and MOVES) is in excess of 28% (between 28 and 59%); and for the overall economic impact (measured by travel cost and ORVal) it is at least 392% (between 392% and 437%), although this does not take capital or infrastructure costs into account. This shows that investing in public access green space yields extensive health and wellbeing benefits to those living near and visiting such locations that are much higher than the costs.

Policy relevance and influence

There is evidence from the literature that use of natural environments encourages higher levels of physical activity, and that there are additional beneficial effects to doing physical activity outdoors compared to indoor activity. These economic valuations are robust across different valuation methods and therefore useful for policy makers when planning future funding mechanisms. These types of valuation could also be extended to other sites in a cost-effective way. However, it is important that economic valuations are used combined with a better understanding of the qualitative, mental health and non-use values of such sites.

Less tangible benefits of natural environments

Although detailed information on the Heaths about qualitative benefits of visiting the Heaths is not currently available, there are interesting insights from Natural England’s MENE survey across the UK about how visiting natural environments has made people feel and the positive but less tangible benefits they get from doing so:

Statement Agree strongly (%) Agree (%)
…I enjoyed it


48 49
…It made me feel calm and relaxed


31 57
…It made me feel refreshed and revitalised 31 55
…I took time to appreciate my surroundings 27 55
…I learned something new about the natural world 9 22
…I felt close to nature


24 51

Source: Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment. Natural England 2017:11.

Behaviour change and a synthesis of potential interventions and policy measures

I also wanted to share here an interesting synthesis of several approaches to behaviour change that could be applied to implementation of nature-based interventions – how we might increase people’s engagement with natural environments.

It shows that behaviour change depends on people’s capability, opportunity and motivation, and demonstrates the range of approaches (including incentives, educational interventions, policy measures, modelling, etc.) available that could potentially be used to increase interventions and multiply the benefits that can be gained from engagement with natural environments.


The Behaviour Change Wheel by Michie, van Straalen and West (2011:1).


More info

There are a number of useful evidence reviews that this project has drawn heavily on, including by Natural England on the links between natural environments and physical activity, and between natural environments and mental health, and an upcoming ‘What Works’ briefing commissioned by DEFRA on natural environment based health interventions (not yet available).

In addition, a Beyond Greenspace blog reports on research findings from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health about why people don’t visit natural environments, and gives recommendations on how this could be addressed through policies and interventions:

Key reasons people gave included ‘too busy at home’, and ‘too busy at work’ to visit natural environments. The authors suggest that the research ‘might help decision-makers focus and tailor their interventions within areas and amongst populations where they could have the largest impact’. ‘One of the strongest predictors of feeling ‘too busy at home’ to engage with these natural environments was having children in the household. Thus… interventions… might instead aim to work with parents of young children to identify appropriate forms of support that would help them to access local parks and other greenspaces in ways that could potentially benefit both parents and children alike.’. Another key factor in low levels of use was reporting being ‘too busy at work’ to visit natural environments, the authors suggest that ‘there is perhaps a need to facilitate the integration of more time-efficient nature experiences into the working day, be it through greening work commutes and offices, promoting a better outdoor break culture within office environments, or offering more virtual forms of nature ‘access’ within offices themselves, promoting at least fleeting moments to tap into the more restorative properties of nature within the workplace.

Sunny Stowford; biodiversity, health and wellbeing

I visited Stowford, a favourite spot of ours on the Commons, yesterday (a definite summer fave for my kids) – a green (and blue) space perfect for some R&R away from the hustle of work, chores and screens. It’s also part of my efforts to fit the recommended amount of exercise  into my day (at least 30 mins of moderate exercise, 5 times per week), which is extremely easy when I’m somewhere like this (walking counts!).

There is significant and growing evidence that exercising outdoors can bring greater health and wellbeing benefits than exercising indoors, and that visiting biodiverse environments has an important role to play in our health and wellbeing (see links page). The Pebblebed Heaths (Woodbury and adjacent Commons) is home to a wealth of biodiverse environments and is a European designated site for bird, butterfly, dragonfly and reptile species including the Dartford Warbler, Silver Studded Blue butterfly, Southern Damselfly and Smooth Snake. January isn’t the right season to see any of these (and some are quite elusive) but further info and a preview of the Space for Nature book – with beautiful photographs by Matt Maran – can be found on the links below:

Preview of Space for Nature book with photographs by Matt Maran

Brief overview of European designated species of the Pebblebed Heaths



Lost and found in a mosaic of different environments; and visiting the Budleigh Health and Wellbeing hub

The Pebblebed Heaths comprise a mosaic of interlinked and complementary environments (heathland, woodland, including mature trees, water features) – some of which has a ‘wild’ and some a more managed feel. The evidence is mounting that visiting, (re)connecting with and exercising in nature can have beneficial effects on both physical and mental health. I got (nearly) lost cycling on the Heaths today (you’re never that far from a signpost if you need one) somewhere on East Budleigh / Lympstone Common, and as a result ended up discovering new places I’d never been to before despite 5 years of visiting the Heaths. For me that’s priceless, especially as I can do it without getting in the car. But of course most of the time I like to visit the same favourite places.

Today I also visited Budleigh Salterton Health and Wellbeing Hub (at the Budleigh Community Hospital site). This hub provides fantastic potential for working more closely with the local community to increase access to and engagement with the surrounding environments including the Pebblebed Heaths, the Otter river and estuary and the greenspace adjacent to the site. The many different groups and individuals already using or working at this hub include under 5s at the nursery, older people attending day care services and fitness classes, patients attending physio, GP and mental health appointments, learning disability trainees working at the cafe, and health technology experts.


December fun on the heaths and winter Pebblebeds views

Whilst I have been getting to grips with the nitty gritty of this project, December has provided some great opportunities to enjoy the Pebblebed heaths and for reconnecting with nature – including a treasure hunt / den building session for 19 children (and a few adults) in a forestry plantation near Uphams car park (near Yettington), with plenty of enthusiasm expressed by the children.

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The views have been spectacular, not least of the gorse which is in full flower just now, and of the autumnal colours of the heaths and grasslands.

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Useful links on Valuing Nature, Health & Wellbeing

Relevant organisations and initiatives:

Valuing Nature programme (NERC funded):

The European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH):

Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust:

Clinton Devon Estates:

Footprint Ecology:

Devon Health and Wellbeing (Devon County Council):

Naturally Healthy (Devon):

Active Devon:

Beyond Greenspace (ECEHH project on environment and human health):

Heritage Ability (an organisation improving accessibility to green spaces):

Further information, useful websites & brief review articles:

Finding Nature (on connection with nature by Miles Richardson):

Valuing Nature blog by Todd Jones on whether we need to use or change societal values about conservation:

Short review of the evidence on the benefits of access to green spaces and engagement with the environment on mental health by Matt Cowley, EAD Ecology:


Iconic landscapes & views – cultural ecosystem services

It’s easy to see why Woodbury Castle is the most visited part of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths (according to visitor data collected by Footprint Ecology) – it’s an iron age fort within an area of open access common heathland and has amazing views across the heaths and towards the sea. The beech trees planted on top of the ramparts around 200 years ago have also become a key feature of this iconic landscape. These are definitely key cultural aspects when examining the heaths through an ecosystem services lens.

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1st December 2017

Now I’m feeling like the project is well underway – the literature review and data analysis processes are taking shape, and I’m beginning to arrange to meet with partner organisations and plan engagement activities. I have discovered some gaps in the visitor data so have been looking at what data collection or secondary data I can use to plug these – e.g. using Census 2011 data in combination with Natural England’s Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) data. There’s plenty to think about and plan!

24th November 2017 – Start up meeting in London

I attended the Valuing Nature Start-up Meeting today in London with Kim Strawbridge from Clinton Devon Estates. This included an introduction by the Valuing Nature team and presentations by all the placement holders (ten altogether). It was great to hear about the other placement holders’ projects and to get some input and suggestions from the other host organisations as well. In the discussions in the afternoon we were all very aware of the challenges ahead, especially of completing the project in the required timescale of around four months!