• Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex, turns into a ‘living laboratory’ for RBG Kew’s
vital scientific research
• New study evaluates impact of different landscapes on human wellbeing
• Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitors help scientists measure changes in heart rate and mood
• Local schools to gather data on how children aged 7–13yrs connect with nature
Over 300 members of the public contributed to a major new study at Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic
garden in Sussex. Launched in May to mark International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May) and
led by Royal Holloway, University of London’s Professor Dawn Watling and Wakehurst’s Head of
Public Programmes, Lorraine Lecourtois, the research aims to empirically measure the benefits of
nature for people, demonstrating how different habitats and landscape impact human wellbeing.
RBG Kew and Royal Holloway researchers hope that this data, gathered across 6 months, will
provide invaluable evidence on how we can design landscapes to improve wellbeing – from green
spaces at home, to major planting schemes funded by government. The research could also impact
social prescribing, providing GPs with new evidence to support recommendations for spending time
in outdoor spaces for wellbeing benefits.
The research forms part of Nature Unlocked, the Landscape Ecology Programme launched by RBG
Kew in 2021. Over the past year, Nature Unlocked has seen Wakehurst become a ‘living laboratory’
for Kew scientists, researching the value of UK biodiversity to inform nature-based solutions to
critical challenges such as climate change and food security. The research streams underpinning
Nature Unlocked range from Carbon to Pollinators, with this study sitting within the Nature
Connectedness branch. The Landscape Ecology Programme is supported by HM Treasury, Sky Zero,
Ground Control, Mount Anvil & Peabody and Players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Wakehurst’s unique landscape, a nationally important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), offers
a range of species-rich habitats across its 535-acre grounds ranging from native and exotic
woodlands, wetlands, and grasslands, to designed landscapes and ornamental gardens. It forms the
ideal site for the wellbeing research, exposing participants to a broad range of environments within
an accessible distance.
On arrival, participants will complete brief questionnaires to establish their mood, before receiving a
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitor to wear around their wrist. A mobile phone, also supplied, will be
used to track their movements within the gardens, whilst the HRV monitor will measure heart rate.
Following their 45-minute walk, visitors will complete a further questionnaire alongside various
additional questions designed to measure feelings experienced when spending time in nature and
how they feel once their walk has been completed. With this data, Royal Holloway researchers can
assess the impact of individual landscapes, and how its impact may differ by age.
Responses of over 1000 younger visitors will be gathered in an accompanying study, developed in
partnership with 36 local schools to Wakehurst.
Ed Ikin, Director of Wakehurst says, “Biodiverse landscapes have benefits for all of us: cleaner air
and water, sustainable food and carbon storage. They can also make us happy, satisfying our need
for visual stimulation, colour and shelter. Our research aims to demonstrate why biodiversity
matters, providing evidence and inspiration to make better decisions and encouraging more people
to care for nature. Our Landscape Ecology Programme is founded on partnerships, and we’re excited
to see Royal Holloway University of London’s expertise unlocking why Wakehurst’s biodiverse
landscape benefits so many people.”
Professor Dawn Watling says, “I am really excited to begin this collaboration with Wakehurst. With
the biodiverse property at Wakehurst, we have a fantastic opportunity, using a multifaceted
approach (from children to older adults, self-reported feelings and objective heart rate variability
measurements), to gain an understanding of how different biodiverse landscapes may have
unexpected impacts on our wellbeing.”
The study will run from May – November 2022.