Healthy ecosystems, healthy people? Is ecosystem degradation a public health emergency? Where does Community Landcare fit in to the public health paradigm?
Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
This year marks the beginning of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. At Landcare, we are starting a discussion on the many facets of ecosystem restoration, and how community grassroots movements can play a role in realising the UN's ambition of a sustainable future. Our 2021 Community Landcare Conference this October will be centred around this theme.
Ecosystem Restoration: A Public Health Intervention was published in EcoHealth last year, and argues that ecological degradation is (among other things) a public health emergency.
A healthy environment = healthy people?
Studies have found that ecological health is connected with human health through direct participation in restoration activities (Landcarers we're looking at you), and the indirect benefits to populations that come from improved environmental quality. That is, getting out there in the dirt is good for your health, and good for others too!
The evidence is mounting on the link between environmental degradation and health issues including allergies, infectious diseases, immune dysfunction and mental health disorders.
There is also a significant body of research confirming negative health consequences of extreme weather events such as drought and bushfires in Australia. The authors say it simply:
The authors acknowledge that there are still gaps in the research in quantifying benefits. How much, and in what ways, does improved ecosystem health and participation in restoration affect human health?
In 2017 Landcare Tasmania conducted a Census which aimed in part to quantify the personal benefits of participation in Landcare. Where 0=strongly disagree, and 5=strongly agree, you can see that on average members agree that as a result of participating they feel more connected to the community and also part of something bigger.
Image: 2017 Community Landcare Census
Community Landcare for Public Health?
Image: Huon Douglas
One of the key recommendations the authors of the study make is for strong community ownership and stewardship in ecosystem restoration. This essentially aligns with the core mission of Landcare.
Landcare's approach to environment and sustainability issues is 'bottom up', with the community taking ownership of the problem and being actively involved in the solutions.
Community Landcare means benefits to ecosystems AND public health.
At the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration webinar last year, Peter Stronach of Landcare Tasmania talked about the underpinning role of local communities in restoration projects across Tasmania.
"Rich in knowledge of the land, their pride of place and connections to one another as well as the land makes the support of small community groups invaluable"
-Peter Stronach, from Report - Scaling Up Ecosystem Restoration Webinar
At this webinar Todd Dudley from Tasmania's North East Bioregional Network (NEBN) also spoke of the physical and mental health benefits of participation in meaningful, local restoration projects such as the NEBN's impressive Restore Skyline Tier endeavour.
Many Landcarers will tell you that their involvement in restoration, environment and sustainability has enhanced their individual and community wellbeing. We are excited for the dual health benefits of ecological restoration on people and the planet to be acknowledged in systematic research and policy decisions.