St Nicks Playing Fields, York, UK, one of the locations for the pilot study. Photo: supplied by authors (CC BY 4.0).

High levels of urban growth across the globe are leading to an increasing number of people exposed to environmental stressors related to air, noise and heat pollution as well as exacerbating mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Access and exposure to public green space might be critical to health promotion and prevention of mental ill health. However, it is uncertain if differential health and mental health benefits are associated with undertaking different activities in public green space.

This study evaluated the health and wellbeing benefits of different activities in different locations of public green spaces in urban and semi-urban areas using a mixed-methods before-and-after design. Volunteers at three conservation sites in North Yorkshire, UK, were recruited and took part in group guided walks, practical conservation tasks or citizen science. Repeated measures one-way ANOVAs with Bonferroni correction assessed the relationship between location and activity type on change in acute subjective mood from pre- to post-activity, measured with the UWIST Mood Adjective Checklist (UWIST-MACL). Qualitative semi-structured interviews were undertaken and analysed thematically to explore participants’ perceptions about the health and wellbeing benefits of activities in public green space. Forty-five participants were recruited, leading to 65 independent observations. Walking, conservation and citizen science in public green space were associated with improved mood. Across all participants acute subjective mood improved across all domains of the UWIST-MACL. There was a significant association between reduction in stress and location (p = 0.009). Qualitatively participants reported that conservation and citizen science conferred co-benefits to the environment and individual health and well-being and were perceived as purposeful.

The actual location where activities such as walking, citizen science and conservation can affect the magnitude of stress level reduction. Graph: supplied by authors (CC BY 4.0).

The conclusion from the study suggests that undertaking purposeful activity in public green space has the potential to promote health and prevent mental ill health especially in locations where people have the most connection.