There is growing recognition of the beneficial impact of wilderness experience for personal therapy and social skills development. This is increasingly underpinned by an expanding body of scientific research.
A range of newer related initiatives has emerged – many of which, combined with more traditional treatment programmes, address important inner urban issues such as youth at risk, youth development, rehabilitation, healthcare and conflict reconciliation.
One project in this latter category, supported by the Wilderness Foundation UK, brings together former terrorist adversaries from the Northern Ireland conflict as a recognizably successful element in the ongoing peace process.
The effectiveness of these programmes is underwritten by the large scale of areas involved, enabling such activities to occur without compromising biodiversity goals, and the psychological attributes of large wild areas that can facilitate a range of relevant remedial therapies.
In addition to the income and employment they bring, the societal value of such programmes can be quantified – in terms, for example, of the financial benefit to society of custodial expenses avoided, lower criminal reoffending rates or lower medical costs from improved physiological healthcare results.
They also provide a growing link between biodiversity interests and the social priorities of urban politicians, which the ‘traditional’ conservation agenda has generally failed to achieve to any significant degree.
This aspect alone can help make a significant contribution to the policy and funding profile of conservation generally among decision takers in the mainline political arena.
For further information, see: A study of the social benefits of wildlands for youth at risk, healthcare and conflict resolution
Next steps in utilising social benefits
Many social programmes are still being developed on a relatively limited scale.
Three key actions are required to fully realize their potential:
- clear representation of the scientific research underpinning their effectiveness, particularly in relation to wilderness and wild area experience
- proactive identification and development of markets for each benefit category
- incentives for capacity building to deliver the benefits