Abstract: Despite a long-held popular belief that nature is ‘healthy’ for people, exactly how or even whether this is true has only recently been subject to scientific scrutiny. This report reviews key literature relevant to the relationship between conservation and health and wellbeing (HWB) benefits, with a particular focus on public conservation areas (PCAs) managed by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). The review takes a broad approach both to the types of natural environments that may offer HWB benefits and to the scope of HWB.
Overall, there is a large body of internationally relevant modern research that suggests that exposure to natural environments has direct positive effects on human HWB. However, much of this research was either anecdotal or descriptive. Of the relatively small number of experimental studies that have rigorously tested differences between natural and non-natural settings, many of the positive effects were not statistically significant or related to very small sample groups. Therefore, further investigation of activities undertaken in PCAs and their HWB outcomes is required to better understand conservation/human HWB relationships in New Zealand. The report identifies sources of data and expertise that are required to further analyse the relationships between conservation investment and human health, discusses the value of conservation investment as measured by health outcomes, and describes measures that would improve the alignment between conservation management and potential HWB benefits in New Zealand. Recommendations focus on requirements for research relevant to New Zealand natural areas, and the need for an integrated approach between DOC, other managers of public natural areas, and managers and stakeholders in the health and volunteering sectors.