How are nature-based solutions contributing to priority societal challenges surrounding human well-being in the United Kingdom: a systematic map


The concept of nature-based solutions (NBS) has evolved as an umbrella concept to describe approaches to learning from and using nature to create sustainable socio-ecological systems. Furthermore, NBS often address multiple societal challenges that humans are facing in the medium to long-term and as such can enhance human well-being (HWB). This study was commissioned to fulfil the need for a targeted systematic evidence map on the linkage between NBS and HWB to support focused research going forward that addresses the key knowledge needs of policy makers in the UK and beyond.


A consultation with policy makers and government agency staff (n = 46), in the four component parts of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) was conducted in spring 2019. This identified four key societal challenges of operational experience lacking a scientific evidence base. Three of these challenges related to management issues: NBS cost-efficacy, governance in planning, environmental justice. The fourth challenge related to the acoustic environment (soundscape). Using systematic methods, this study searched for and identified studies that assessed NBS on HWB with regard to these four selected societal challenges.

Review findings

A total of 7287 articles were returned from the systematic search and screened for suitability at the level of title and abstract. A total of 610 articles passed screening criteria to warrant full text screening. Of these, 115 studies met the full text criteria for eligibility in the final systematic map database. Included studies were coded for twelve NBS interventions and ten HWB related outcome categories. Most of the evidence reviewed referred to natural, blue or green infrastructure in the urban environment and focused on economic, material and health aspects of HWB. Less than 2% of studies identified in the searches robustly reported the role of NBS actions or interventions on HWB compared with non-NBS actions or interventions


This systematic map found the evidence base is growing on NBS-HWB linkages, but significant biases persist in the existing literature. There was a bias in favour of the urban environment and restoration studies focused on conservation aspects, with only a few studies investigating the full suite of advantages to HWB that can be delivered from NBS actions and interventions. The soundscape was the least studied of the societal challenges identified as being of key importance by policy makers, with cost-efficiency the most reported. There was a lack of robust long-term studies to clearly test the potential of NBS regarding the HWB outcomes compared with non-NBS alternatives. This lack of robust primary knowledge, covering all four key societal challenges identified, confirms that the knowledge gaps identified by the policy makers persist, and highlights a clear research need for long-term, transdisciplinary studies that focus on comparisons between NBS and non-NBS alternatives.


Cost-efficacy, Governance in planning, Environmental justice, Acoustic environment, Soundscape


The concept of Nature-based Solutions (NBS) has evolved as an umbrella concept embracing concepts such as Green/Blue/Nature Infrastructure, Ecosystem Approach, Ecosystem Services, but at their core, they cluster into the general theme of learning from and using nature to create sustainable socio-ecological systems, which enhance human well-being (HWB). NBS address societal challenges across a broad range of spatial scales—local, regional and global—and temporal scales—medium to long-term. While there are many reviews and a clear evidence base linking certain NBS to various elements of HWB, particularly urban greenspace and human health, no comprehensive mapping exists of the links between NBS interventions and the associated multiple positive and negative HWB outcomes across a range of habitats. The initial research phase used a participatory co-design process to select four priority societal challenges facing the United Kingdom: three related to management issues i.e. NBS cost-efficacy, governance in planning, environmental justice, and the fourth threats to the acoustic environment. These challenges collectively address priority management issues which stakeholders requested be investigated widely i.e. across landscapes, cityscapes, seascapes and soundscapes. Results of the study are intended to identify and define potential future environmental evidence challenges for UK science.


This protocol describes the methodology for approaching the research question: What evidence is there for nature based solutions and their impacts on human wellbeing for societal challenges related to cost-efficacy, governance in planning, environmental justice, and the acoustic environment? Using systematic mapping, this study will search for and identify studies that seek to assess nature-based solutions on human well-being with regard to these four societal challenges. Systematic searches across a number of academic/online databases are tested against a number of test articles. Search results are refined using eligibility criteria through a three stage process: title, abstract, full text. Data from screened studies are extracted using a predefined coding strategy. Key trends in data will be synthesized according to a range of secondary questions and be presented in a graphical matrix illustrating the knowledge gaps and clusters for research into nature-based solutions and human well-being for each societal challenge.