Health, Nature and Sustainability Research Group

Health and the natural environment are inextricably linked. The Health, Nature and Sustainability Research Group (HNSRG) looks at this relationship from two angles; using nature to improve health and wellbeing, and protecting the environment to ensure sustained health for future generations.

Our vision

To lead research and teaching on the health implications of the links between humans and the natural environment.

Our key priorities

Strategic partnerships

To sustain existing collaborations and capitalise on the current and emerging opportunities for industry and community partnerships, both in Australia and internationally.


To continue to develop the evidence base on the links between human health and the natural environment and encourage and foster honours and PhD projects.

Education and training

To promote interdisciplinary learning on the links between human health and the natural environment at a range of levels, including undergraduate, postgraduate and the wider community.

Publications and dissemination

To widely disseminate the results of our research through publications and other media.


To seek and secure the funding and support necessary to achieve our vision.

Our leading research

Our researchers work across a number of areas, including: 

  • animal assisted therapy 
  • eco-psychology 
  • education for sustainability and about the environment 
  • human relationships with nature 
  • health promotion and climate change 
  • parks, wilderness and health 
  • human interaction with nature and health, and wilderness therapy 
  • environmental volunteering.

Our research collaborations include high-profile organisations such as Parks Victoria and the Climate and Health Alliance.

Greening Deakin, Greening Communities: Setting up university community gardens

This study used a mixed methods approach, consisting of an online survey and interviews, to investigate the opportunities and barriers for developing a community garden on Deakin University’s Burwood Campus.

An online survey of staff and student across the Burwood campus was conducted and 532 staff and students replied to our survey –84% thought it would be a great idea.

Much support was also shown for a range of other health and sustainable food activities that could be implemented in the community garden. Activities which demonstrated the most potential included: using the garden to reduce food miles; the use of the garden for rest and relaxation; to connect with nature; and buying garden produce at farmer’s markets on campus.

The interviews, with Key Informants, uncovered 7 enablers to establishing and maintaining a community garden, and also barriers, which could be summarised by 4 key themes: Design and Location, Funding, Governance Processes and University Policies.

This research highlighted that there is a great deal of support for the development of a community garden on the Burwood campus.

Feel Blue, Touch Green

This project looked at the effect of conservation work on people experiencing anxiety, depression or social isolation. It found that there were mental and physical health benefits to conservation work, as well as improved general wellbeing.

Read the Feel Blue, Touch Green report (PDF, 2.4 MB)

Education and training

HNS promotes interdisciplinary learning on the links between human health and the natural environment. This manifests as consulting on Deakin course content, welcoming research degree students to the centre and running educational workshops with the wider community.

In addition to research, the HNS team teaches in a number of undergraduate and postgraduate programs in health and sustainability, environmental health and planning for sustainable change.

Dr Rebecca Patrick, co-lead of the HNSRG, is currently working on an international project to 'measure what counts'. An initiative that champions the coupling of human health with planetary health in measuring the success of communities.

The team

Members of HNS are recognised both nationally and internationally. The group is led by Honorary Associate Professor Mardie Townsend, a prolific researcher and well-respected supervisor.

Our members include: