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From farm to feeder

Prescribing birds

We all know and appreciate the enjoyment that feeding the birds in your garden can bring, but maybe there is more to this than we thought!

You may well have read about an unusual approach to healthcare piloted and subsequently implemented on Shetland. The trial was undertaken by a GP practice which, in conjunction with RSPB Scotland, encouraged patients to engage with nature to help in the treatment of conditions like high blood pressure and a number of mental health complaints. The trial was so successful that the idea has now been rolled out to a wider area.

With the Government now looking to put in place health strategies to improve the long-term health of the general public ideas like this could also be on the cards for all of us. In some ways, it could be looked at as a clever plan to not only get us to engage with nature but also to get outside and move about more.

It's well known that longer times spent in daylight helps us overcome seasonal affected disorder, which is something all too obvious at this time of year. And there is an increasing amount of evidence that being in close proximity to nature helps us all relax and reduce our stress levels. Just looking at the colour green can, for some, have a positive impact on well being.

When we add to the mix that the action of getting outside will entail some degree of physical activity (something we are all encouraged to do more of), this too can contribute towards the overall improvements in health.

So the findings of this trial came as no surprise to those of us who have for some time enjoyed and engaged with nature. What is good to read is that the medical profession and now actively advocating this as an addition to an overall treatment plan. It would seem reasonable to suppose that, by encouraging birds into our gardens that we will naturally engage with them by watching and caring for them. So, maybe, those of us who have been enjoying the wildlife on our doorsteps are trailblazers for alternative therapies?

Whatever benefits a closer relationship brings it is being offered as part of a treatment plan. We can't stop taking the medication that has been prescribed simply because we are going on regular walks in the countryside. Treatment for such conditions as depression, stress and anxiety need a holistic approach of which the engagement with nature is just one part.

Much of what has been about treatment but as an old saying goes, ‘prevention is better than a cure' so the underlying benefits of a closer relationship with nature cannot be overlooked. It's reasonable to assume that the closer we are on a regular basis, the better it is for all of us. So maybe there is more to feeding birds than just the enjoyment of doing so? Who knows, perhaps there is some subconscious motivation to do things that bring the natural world closer to us to enable us to gain from the experience? Who knows, but in doing so both the birds and those of us who enjoy their company, gain from it. Long may that continue.

Words & Images © Phil Pickin