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People living in neighbourhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress, according to research by academics at the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland.

The study, involving hundreds of people and published in the journal BioScience, found benefits for mental health of being able to see birds, shrubs and trees around the home, whether people lived in urban or leafier suburban neighbourhoods.

The study, which surveyed mental health in over 270 people from different ages, incomes and ethnicities, also found that those who spent less time out of doors than usual in the previous week were more likely to report they were anxious or depressed.

After conducting extensive surveys of the number of birds in the morning and afternoon in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton, the study found that lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon. The academics studied afternoon bird numbers — which tend to be lower than birds generally seen in the morning — because they are more in keeping with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighbourhood on a daily basis.

Common species such as Blackbird, Robin, Blue Tit and various corvids were seen during the study, but it was the number of individual birds (rather than species) seen that was linked to mental health quality. Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low, suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds that provides well-being, rather than particular species.

Blackbird
The humble Blackbird is a familiar sight in gardens, and one species that even non-birders readily recognise (Photo: Carl Bovis)

University of Exeter research fellow Dr Daniel Cox, who led the study, said: "This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being.

"Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live."

The positive association between birds, shrubs and trees and better mental health applied, even after controlling for variation in neighbourhood deprivation, household income, age and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors.

Recent research by Dr Cox and Professor Kevin Gaston, who are based at the Environmental Sustainability Institute at the Penryn Campus at the University of Exeter, found that watching birds makes people feel relaxed and connected to nature.

Reference

Cox D T C, Shanahan D F, Hudson H L & 6 others. 2017. Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature. BioScience 67 (2): 147-155. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biw173

The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (3)

#1
I think these findings relate to a far more ancestoral/primeval aspect, where the abundance of 'nature' gave a sense of wellbeing with respect to the abundance of resources, primarily food. However, whatever the mechanism behind these findings, I can certainly substantiate that without my life-long association with the Natural World, I would not have made it thus far, as I suffer with anxiety and depression, which in hindsight I have done since childhood. The situation with regard to resources for mental health issues, is far from adequate and the very world we seem to be hell-bent on destroying has come to our aid once again! Perry Fairman Ecological Experiences
   Perry, 03/03/17 16:20Report inappropriate post Report 
#2
And then I leave my garden, with its sparrows and finches, and go into the nearby countryside dominated by pasture and horse paddocks, and a feeling of depression grips me more than ever as I try to find insects, birds or mammals. The benefits of home are easily outweighed by the spirit-sapping state of the wider environment.
   Andy Bissitt, 03/03/17 22:09Report inappropriate post Report 
#3
In May 2015 I was holed up in my parents' garage in rural Suffolk, desperately sorting the contents by colour... fighting Green with Blue and Yellow as you do... whilst receiving regular notifications from Bird News Anywhere of a Wood Warbler "in the local area"... or so I believed. Every time, I had to down tools and pop my head out of the door to check. No Wood Warbler as ever, just the Police. A couple of hours later I was Sectioned, suffering a 'Manic Episode'. Not fair to blame the Wood Warbler, there was a lot else going on at the time. Tonight I was welcomed home at dusk by a glorious Song Thrush. Tomorrow my 'normal' neighbours will seek me out to tell me how much they loved hearing "the Nightingale". As ever, I'll smile and explain that I didn't hear it, how lucky they are etc... and of course, they are...
   Richard Frost, 05/03/17 20:52Report inappropriate post Report 

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