Academics give eco-warnings

Chairman of last week's Society of Chemical Industry Plants to the Rescue conference Geoff Dixon made the headline statement that if you removed all green plants from the world, within 30 minutes all mammals would die because we produce so much CO2.

His message underpinned evidence presented by academics that plants improve physical and mental health. University of Essex researcher Jo Barton said 13.8 million working days were lost in 2006/07 from depression and that children are "disconnected" with nature, which is causing a reduction in eco-literacy. "They don't know anything about plants and have misunderstandings about food," she said.

Barton outlined successful Wilderness Foundation projects with Essex young offenders that are designed to build mood and self esteem, along with mental heath "dose of nature" green walks. She said a "natural heath service" complements the NHS.

Barton advocated green care (employers encouraging walks in the park), green design (plants in work space), green exercise and more green space in urban design. Mind commissioned two studies from the university for its Ecotherapy Report, published in 2007.

RHS education head Ruth Taylor said the think-tank New Economic Foundation promoted methods of well-being including: be active; take notice; and keep learning.

Taylor said 10,000 primary schools have signed up for the RHS educational programme, which has a target of involving 80 per cent of Britain's 23,000 primary schools by 2012.

She said National Foundation for Educational Research results on the effect of school gardening on youngsters is due for 2010; and two years of research at Leeds university on how gardening changes children's eating habits is starting.


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