IN Japan they call it “forest bathing” – taking a short, leisurely visit to a forest for health benefits.
In Australia we don’t have a specific term to describe the reviving practice of walking among trees in the bush, but we are becoming more aware of how necessary trees and green spaces are for environmental and health reasons.
Global research has shown trees have a substantial role to play in reducing the impact of air pollution. A United Kingdom forestry department study estimated just 5.5 per cent of greenspace across a 10km by 10km square could avert two deaths and two hospital admissions per year.
In the Hunter region groups like Doctors for the Environment are becoming increasingly outspoken about the need to reduce toxic pollution from ageing coal-fired power stations like Liddell and Bayswater near Muswellbrook, and the extremely large open cut coal mines that now cover huge parts of the Upper Hunter landscape.
With each coal mine that is approved or expanded – often many times over decades – trees are removed, often trees across hundreds of hectares with related under-storey bush essential for native birds and animals. And also, as more and research is showing, essential for human health and wellbeing.
It is not in dispute that in 2017 the Hunter's 10 largest coal mines put 61 million kilograms of coarse particle pollution into the Hunter air. It is not in dispute that apart from dust particles that cause real problems for the young, the elderly and people with cardio or respiratory conditions, power stations emitted toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into the atmosphere. The figures aren’t in dispute because they were provided by industry to the Federal Government’s National Pollutant Inventory.
In recent years Doctors for the Environment have provided evidence to back their strong concerns about the impacts of so many mines and power stations on the health of Upper Hunter communities. The group has argued strongly for mining to be included, for the first time, in the NSW load-based licensing scheme which puts a price on pollution for most other industries.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority describes the scheme as a “powerful tool” for controlling and reducing air and water pollution, which begs the question why mining remains exempt. A review of the scheme seems to have stalled. The community is entitled to ask why.