For our May Project of the Month we discover how NHS Lothian became the first health board in Scotland to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the biodiversity of the green spaces in its estate. The move is part of an ambitious plan to reduce the health board’s overall carbon emissions and to use its greenspaces to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities it serves. 

Supported by greenspace scotland and the Edinburgh and Lothian Health Foundation, consultants Natural Capital Solutions were commissioned to conduct a Biodiversity Audit and Climate Change Assessment. This is the first big step down a strategic path to really using the greenspace and biodiversity of the NHS Lothian estate as a key health and environmental asset, building from the pioneering 2019 NHS Lothian Green Space and Health Strategy and reiterated in the 2020 NHS Lothian Sustainable Development Framework & Action Plan

With 81 hectares of greenspace throughout its entire 174 hectare estate, NHS Lothian has recognised that it is responsible for significant natural capital that supports biodiversity and a wide range of benefits: regulating air quality, taking up carbon and increasing health and wellbeing.

How significant are these assets, and how can they be managed to meet NHS Lothian’s goals and commitments?

The audit answers these questions by means of:

  • Spatial asset register
    a baseline asset map across the 94 separate estate sites
  • Biodiversity assessment of each site
    using a “biodiversity units” metric based on size, distinctiveness and condition; providing baseline scoring.
  • Carbon and air quality assessment
    an assessment of carbon sequestration and air quality regulation services provided by each habitat, site, and the estate as a whole. These were quantified throughout the register and their monetary values estimated.
  • Health and wellbeing benefits
    Health and wellbeing are also ecosystem services, but valuing them is less straightforward. In addition to natural asset data, it takes local data on nature-based health interventions such as gardening and walking activities, and research on the changes these achieve in mental and physical health. The assessment applied two cost–benefit analyses to therapeutic gardening.
  • Spatial accounting tool
    An end result of all the analyses is a spatial biodiversity and natural capital accounting tool, which will allow NHS Lothian to re-run assessments of biodiversity, carbon sequestration and air quality regulation based on planned or completed changes. The tool can also calculate the net present values of planned investments over their lifetime, usually 50 years.

Tree on grounds of hospital.This Audit has shown the scale of the opportunity and will help NHS Lothian realise the full potential of its estate by:

  • Improving the quality and quantity of green space
  • Connecting with surrounding green infrastructure
  • Encouraging more nature-based health activities
  • Developing a co-ordinated strategic approach to manage natural capital assets, and providing

It provides the baseline data to measure progress; and tools to compare the impacts of alternative management options.

Read the technical report and summary report

For further info on the project please contact Ian Mackenzie, Green Health Programme Manager.

Email Ian