The climate and biodiversity emergencies are having massive and ongoing impacts on human health and wellbeing.  

Human health is linked inextricably with planetary health. Some effects of ecosystem degradation on human health are direct, such as the physical and mental health impacts of floods, heatwaves, water shortage, and pollutants. The health of ecosystems also affects human health and wellbeing through food production, livelihoods, emerging diseases, population displacement, and conflict. Just as degraded ecosystems can have negative impacts on human health and wellbeing, so healthy ecosystems can deliver important benefits. 

Research in this theme contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 11 of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being at all ages, especially in the context of sustainable cities and communities. The work of this theme also addresses and appeals to UK policy priorities around better physical and mental health, and improving the state of our ecosystems, air and water. 

Research theme aims

  • Improve understanding of the links between ecosystem and human health and wellbeing
  • Develop and evaluate nature-based solutions for physically and mentally healthier futures. 

Key focus areas

  • Green and blue spaces - evaluating the contribution of green and blue spaces to physical and mental health and wellbeing
  • Climate change - understanding the effects of climate change on health and wellbeing and developing adaptation strategies to reduce vulnerability and enhance health
  • Infectious diseases - understanding the role of ecosystems in reducing the risk from existing and emerging infections and antimicrobial resistance   

Related links

Dr Peter Coventry

Research theme co-lead
Dr Peter Coventry

Professor Piran White

Research Theme co-lead

Professor Piran White


Green social prescribing for mental health and wellbeing

An evaluation of nature-based social prescribing initiatives across West Yorkshire, in partnership with West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership and the University of Central Lancashire. Learn more.

The York City Environment Observatory (YCEO) aims to establish York as an exemplar city for better understanding the links between the quality of the natural, cultural, social and built environments (the ‘total environment’) and the health and wellbeing of citizens and the economy of the city.

Integrating data on health and environment

This project analysed the latest spatially explicit UK health data in order to understand the relationships between multiple environmental exposures and a range of health outcomes, beginning with mental health outcomes.

Mobility and wellbeing

This project investigated the links between mobility and wellbeing amongst older people. The work included a longitudinal study of older people in York, Hexham and Leeds who have experienced transitions affecting mobility and wellbeing.

Sustainable communities

The project aimed to support the development of an environmentally and socially sustainable community at Derwenthorpe through authoritative but rapidly applicable research evidence.

Resource recovery approaches for nanomaterials

This catalyst project synthesised knowledge on the nature and amounts of nanomaterials in waste streams in the 2020s, the potential impacts of these nanomaterials on the health of the environment; and approaches for recovering nanomaterials from different waste types.

Closing the Gap

A network to understand why people with severe mental illness have some of the worst physical health issues of any section of the population, including work on the links between use of natural green and blue spaces and mental health for people with severe mental illness.

A project in collaboration with Jadavpur University, Stockholm Environment Institute (Asia), International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research Bangladesh, Professional Institute for Development and Socio Environmental Management (PRISM), and Southern Health Improvement Samity to understand the dynamic and multifaceted vulnerabilities to climate and climate-related environmental risks for population health in low-lying coastal areas in the Bay of Bengal.

A pan-Yorkshire collaboration between academic centres and NHS partners and stakeholders to co-produce nature-based solutions to improve the physical and mental health of people with multimorbidity. This includes a project with Rotherham and Doncaster NHS Foundation Trust to evaluate the mental health benefits of exposure to woodland walks for in-patients with serious mental illness. The programme also supports a PhD study to evaluate data linkages between UK Biobank and the Urban Atlas to model the relationship between green and blue space and multimorbidity, and a systematic review of the mental and physical health benefits of nature-based interventions with external membership from Born in Bradford and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare.

Environmental linkages to mental health and qualitative exploration of wellbeing benefits in coastal areas in north-west and north-east England.This programme of work, in collaboration with the University of Central Lancashire, links to the Northern Health Science Alliance network on Healthy Ageing. It is examining the associations of green and blue spaces with indicators of healthy ageing (e.g. measures of functioning and wellbeing) in coastal communities, to identify the characteristics of green and blue space that can provide the greatest relative benefits and reduce inequalities and promote healthy ageing in these communities.

Experiences of blue spaces and health in the lives of people with severe mental illness. This project, in collaboration with the University of Exeter, is investigating how outdoor blue spaces, such as seas, rivers and lakes, can have positive effects on the physical and mental health of people with serious mental health conditions such as Bipolar or Schizophrenia.

Pollution assessment (CAPACITIE)

CAPACITIE explored a range of technologies for pollution monitoring, including: mobile phones; passive sampling devices; miniaturised sensing devices; robotics; and state-of-the-art analytical techniques e.g. time of flight mass spectrometry.

Maritime and cultural heritage (PERICLES)

PERICLES promotes sustainable, participatory governance of cultural heritage in European coastal and maritime regions through a unique interdisciplinary and geographically wide-ranging approach.

Air pollution and SDGs in Africa

This project explores the potential for future interdisciplinary research that could support sustainable development and progress towards the SDGs (including an assessment of trade-offs and synergies of interventions in achieving different SDG targets).

Related links

Dr Peter Coventry

Research theme co-lead
Dr Peter Coventry

Professor Piran White

Research Theme co-lead

Professor Piran White