0845 GMT October 22, 2019
From Friday, doctors working in the 10 GP surgeries on the islands will be authorized by the archipelago’s health board, NHS Shetland, to issue “’nature prescriptions’ to patients to help treat mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, stress and other conditions.
Patients will be given calendars and lists of walks drawn up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds showing them particular bird species and plants, and suitable routes to take. The leaflets are to be available at surgeries.
Patients will be nudged to go hill walking on Shetland’s upland moors, and directed towards coastal paths to watch fulmars, to beachcomb for shells, draw snowdrops in February, and spot long-tailed ducks, oystercatchers and lapwings.
NHS Shetland is not suggesting that nature prescriptions will replace conventional medicines. Dr Chloe Evans, a GP who piloted the program at Scalloway health center on the west coast of Shetland’s main island, said it supplemented normal treatments.
“There are millions of different ways of doing medicine but we very much try to involve people in their own health, and people really like being empowered,” Evans said.
“People are always thinking at some level about their diet or exercise or stopping smoking but finding out what works for them is the key. The beauty about Shetland is it has this fantastic wild landscape.”
Helen Moncrieff, the area manager for RSPB Scotland, said that during winter the prescriptions would be ‘elemental’, where strong Atlantic winds would be the main feature.
Some people may be asked to take their hoods down and stand still and silent for three minutes, in a form of open-air mindfulness, for instance. The NHS leaflets were entitled “Nature your soul”, Moncrieff said.