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Therapeutic Landscapes

Ecosystems provide for the restoration, maintenance and development of emotional, mental and physical health and well-being.

 

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Cultural Services

 

What are therapeutic landscapes and how are they derived?

Sharing a moment with 'oneself' in a natural setting provides opportunties for improved mental well-being through relaxation and restoration.

Experiences of the natural environment close to where we live and work are declining rapidly as the world's population becomes increasingly urbanised, in short we are suffering an 'extinction of experience'. Several decades of research has shown conclusively that exposure to natural elements in a landscape has wide ranging benefits to physical and mental health and well-being, and conversely that absence of such exposure leads to physical and mental health problems.

Table 1 presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions contribute to providing therapeutic landscapes (relative to other ecosystem functions). The mechanisms by which therapeutic landscapes deliver their benefits are poorly understood. Only recently have studies begun to unpick the elements of a landscape that deliver benefits, as opposed to those that are simply preferred. Landscape opportunity is the chief ecosystem function associated with therapeutic benefits, highlighting the need to maintain ecosystem diversity. Perhaps the most obvious function that must be actively maintained for landscapes to deliver therapeutic benefits is supporting habitats, given that exposure to biodiversity is critical in maintaining meaningful experiences of the natural world. If habitat for biodiversity is gone, the opportunity to derive therapeutic benefits from nature is gone.

Other important functions include the provision of shade and shelter, pollination, climate regulation, gas regulation, water supply and water regulation. These functions are sympomatic of healthy green and blue spaces. These functions also are directly used by gardeners in what is one of the most direct human interactions with nature. Production of food and raw materials is important for the survival of species (a component of biodiversity), as well as for many gardeners and allotment owners, particularly farmers in peri-urban landscapes. Barrier effects of vegetation are an understudied ecosystem function, but also potentially important, given their ability to buffer noise pollution, provide white noise and provide restorative green views in cluttered urban landscapes.

Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Therapeutic Landscapes.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
1
2
3
4
5
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation





Climate Regulation





Disturbance Regulation





Water Regulation





Soil Retention





Nutrient Regulation





Waste Treatment and Assimilation





Pollination





Biological Control





Barrier Effect of Vegetation





Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats





Soil Formation





Provisioning Functions
Food





Raw Materials





Water Supply





Genetic Resources





Provision of Shade and Shelter





Pharmacological Resources





Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity





 

ARE HUMAN INPUTS REQUIRED TO FACILITATE therapeutic landscapes?

Moreton Bay sunsets provide boating enthusiats therapeutic landscapes.

For some, therapeutic landscapes are isolated places out in the 'country'.

Rugged coastal landscapes provide the energy for some to recharge.

Ecosystems provide the potential to experience the therapeutic effects of the landscape, regardless of whether we take the opportunity to use them. To ensure this service is delivered, there must be (i) plenty of green (e.g. grassed or treed areas) or blue space (e.g. fresh or marine waters), and (ii) preferably a high level of biodiversity in the landscape. This demands thoughtful provision of high quality public parks, bushland remnants and 'green' residential areas within our urban environments, and the protection of wilderness landscapes outside our towns and cities to which residents can escape for deeper experiences of nature. Thus, active provision, maintenance and monitoring of this ecosytem service is essential, particularly within urban areas.

Public recreation parks are obviously multi-use, but recent advances in best practices has prompted many cities to move away from old-fashioned and biologically impoverished 'urban savannah' designs, to mosaic environments which allow full recreational use, but also maintain higher levels of biodiversity and hence deliver greater therapeutic benefits. A recent study found that the psychological benefits gained by visitors to urban green spaces increased with the level of biodiversity, indicating that 'green' alone is not sufficient; the quality of that green is important in delivering this ecosystem service. Outside the formal green space network, specific management interventions such as planting street trees, allowing some areas of mown turf to grow long, promoting 'wildlife-frendly' backyard management can all improve the therapeutic value of urbanised landscapes.

 

Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

There are enormous disparities across human society in proximity to places where nature can be experienced, and low levels of ambient biodiversity close to where people live can be interpreted as an axis of deprivation. Careful spatial planning of green (and blue) space provision is essential to work toward equity.

Significant cultural and gender barriers can also hinder the delivery of this ecosystem service, for example perceptions of neighbourhood safety will influence the amount of time people spend outdoors and there is strong cultural variation in values toward contact with nature. Exposure to dangerous animals is a particular concern within Australia, though there is little research on this.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.

Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Therapeutic Landscapes contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
1
2
3
4
5
Existence
Breathing            
Drinking            
Nutrition            
Shelter            
Health
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Security
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            

 

HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE DEGRADING, MAINTAINING OR IMPROVING therapeutic landscapes?

Regular audits of green space distribution and coverage would be a cost-effective though indirect way of monitoring provision of therapeutic landscapes. As well, the monitoring of aquatic and marine ecosystem health. More direct studies that measure levels of therapeutic benefit using samples of the human population are more expensive, but probably the best way to ensure this service is being delivered to the required standard. There are several recent examples of such studies that could be used as templates, though these would need to be adapted for use in SEQ.

 

How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

Policies dictating the provision of green and blue space and trees can have direct public health consequences through their therapeutic benefits, as well as indirect returns on investment such as averting healthcare spending and reducing crime rates. To our knowledge no formal management or monitoring programs exist for this ecosystem service anywhere in the world, so such a scheme would be highly innovative.