Evaluating the health, societal and environmental benefits of urban wetlands

Natural environments in urban areas have been associated with healthful behaviours
via several pathways - physical activity, areas for social interaction, therapeutic and
restorative properties of nature and/or the improvement in local environmental
conditions. However much of the research to date has focused on urban ‘greenspace’
or coastal ‘blue spaces’. Urban wetlands offer great potential for multiple benefits to
urban dwellers (flood protection, water quality improvements, wildlife habitat,
microclimate regulation, space for healthful behaviours) and therefore provide
attractive sustainable options for environmental, biological, psychological resilience
against future threats to urban life (e.g. climate change, urbanisation, mental and
physical disease).
WWT London Wetland Centre (LWC), is a world renowned urban wetland centre
Established in 2000, it constitutes a diverse wetland habitat (designated SSSI) and
visitor centre in the heart of a densely populated urban setting (Barnes, West London).
It attracts 170,000 visitors a year, supports 300 volunteers and educates thousands of
schoolchildren a year, many from disadvantaged areas. It provides an ideal
opportunity for evaluating the direct and indirect health benefits of urban wetlands to
local residents, staff and volunteer, visitors and school groups.
We aim to evaluate the health, societal and environmental benefits of this urban blue
green space to inform future city design and planning to enhance environmental
quality, equitability and liveability, and health and wellbeing. We will also explore
options to compare results from LWC to other London urban wetlands e.g. Woodbury
Wetlands, Walthamstow wetlands. The specific objectives are to:

1) Assess the wellbeing benefits of the LWC to local residents using routinely collected
health data; such as Health Survey for England, GP prescriptions via the Clinical
Practice Research Datalink, morbidity data available via the Small Area Health
Statistics Unit (SAHSU).

2) Establish the benefits of the LWC on local environmental conditions using available
environmental data on daytime and night-time traffic noise, air pollution (particulate

matter, nitrogen dioxide) and temperature. Results will be compared to ongoing
research of the impact of vegetation on air and noise pollution levels by the lead
3) Evaluate individual health behaviours and self-reported health and wellbeing via
validated surveys and/or biometric measurements of LWC volunteers, visitors and/or
school children to explore immediate and longer term impacts on health of visits to
urban wetlands. Immediate impacts will be investigated with volunteers and visitors,
longer term impacts will utilise long established volunteer relationships that exist with
the Centre.
4) Build on preliminary evidence from WWT suggesting deprivation can moderate the
influence of the health and wellbeing benefits of a school visit to a wetland centre and
methods to investigate the influence of deprivation and socio-economic background
on attitudes and interest in nature in school children visiting the Centre.

For more information on how to apply visit us at www.imperial.ac.uk/changingplanet

Supervisors: Dr Daniela Fecht (d.fecht@imperial.ac.uk); Dr Kris Murray, School of
Public Health, IC; Dr Ruth Cromie, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust; Dr Jonathan Reeves,
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust