Woods In and Around Towns (WIAT): influences on psychological wellbeing in deprived urban areas was a longitudinal assessment of the effectiveness of Forestry Commission Scotland’s programme to improve quality of life in deprived communities.
What is this research about?
Spanning ten years and two phases, Woods In and Around Towns (WIAT) is a Forestry Commission Scotland initiative to improve quality of life in Scotland’s urban and post-industrial areas through community access to new or regenerated woodland. To date, WIAT has brought 11,000 hectares of neglected woodland back into active management, created 1,400 hectares of new urban woodland and created or upgraded over 300 miles of footpaths.
Building on evidence that green spaces may positively influence mental health, our study looked specifically at the impact of WIAT on the psychological wellbeing and stress levels of people living in deprived communities. Running from 2012 to 2016 (with publication in 2017), it was designed to take advantage of WIAT as a natural experiment along Scotland’s ‘central belt’.
This was a controlled study involving a repeat cross-sectional survey of residents living within 1.5 km of six Scottish sites: three where local woods were changed (through the installation of new paths and signage, for example); and three where they were not.
Data was collected in three waves: before any changes were made to the woodlands (2013); after physical changes were made (2014); and again after further social interventions, like organised walks, had taken place (2015). Through an environmental audit, we monitored what actually changed in the woodlands, both physically and contextually.
We used a standard way of measuring how stressed people are, the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), and a range of other methods to achieve secondary, self-reported outcomes related to factors such as physical activity, perception and use of the woodlands, connectedness to nature and social cohesion.
The findings were reported to the funding body in 2017 and we have received an Impact Acceleration Award from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to share key messages arising from them with a range of partners and stakeholders, including Forestry Commission Scotland and other public land owners and managers, such as local authorities.
Who is working on Woods In and Around Towns?
OPENspace research team:
Catharine Ward Thompson (Chief Investigator)
Eva Silveirinha de Oliveira (Joint Study Manager)
Sara Tilley (Joint Study Manager)
Peter Aspinall (Co-Investigator)
Jenny Roe (Co-Investigator)
Other academic partners:
Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York
The Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow
Department of Social and Environmental Health Research at the
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Study Steering Committee:
Professor George Morris (Chair) – Independent adviser on Environment and Human Health
Peter Craig – MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow
Professor Terry Hartig – Institute for Housing and Urban Research, Uppsala University
Liz O’Brien – Social and Economic Research Group, Forestry Commission
Marcus Sangster – Independent consultant
Impact Acceleration Award partners:
Forestry Commission Scotland
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network
Central Scotland Green Network Trust
Glasgow City Council
What academic papers are linked to this research?
To date, we have published one academic paper on this research:
Silveirinha de Oliveira, E., Aspinall, P., Briggs, A., Cummins, C., Leyland, A. H., Mitchell, R., Roe, J. and Ward Thompson, C. 2013. ‘in BMJ Open 3:8. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003648
Has OPENspace undertaken any other work on WIAT?
OPENspace has been involved in Woods in and Around Towns (WIAT) from the earliest days of the project.
We were commissioned by Forestry Commission Scotland to conduct a longitudinal survey comparing people’s perceptions and use of local woodlands before the project started in 2006, and three years afterwards in 2009.
We developed two tools to help us conduct the survey:
- a household questionnaire (administered by an external market research company, Progressive Partnership Ltd)
- an environmental audit tool (designed to provide a more objective assessment of the quality of the physical woodland environment, and evaluate the type of experience it offered).
In March 2007, we published our baseline survey on how people perceived and used their local woodlands before WIAT made any changes to the environment.
In June 2010, we published a protocol for using the WIAT Questionnaire and Environmental Audit Tools
In October 2013, we published the findings of the longitudinal survey in the journal, Landscape and Urban Planning (Vol 118).
This is an extract from the paper abstract…
“Results show highly significant (p < 0.001) difference over time in the intervention site in perceptions of the quality of the physical neighbourhood environment, an indicator of quality of life.
The research also found significant differences in woodland use (p < 0.001), in the frequency of summer woodland visits (p < 0.05), in attitudes to woodlands as places for physical activity (p < 0.01) and in perceptions of safety (p < 0.05) in the intervention site over time, compared with no significant change in the comparison site.
We conclude that environmental interventions in deprived urban locations can positively impact on use patterns, perceptions of environment and, potentially, activity levels and quality of life”.
Who is funding this research?
Woods In and Around Towns (WIAT) was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research Programme (project number 10/3005/18).
Our Impact Acceleration Award (which runs until mid 2018) is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Where can I find out more?
You can download an illustrated, two-page leaflet about the project
You can visit the NIHR Evaluations, Trials and Studies (NETS) website for full project details
You can visit the Forestry Commission Scotland website has lots of information on the strategic plan for WIAT (2015-2020) and the success of earlier WIAT interventions.