Benefits of nature

We are happier, healthier, wealthier and smarter around nature. Learn about the benefits a healthy environment can provide – especially important when you live in Australia’s largest city.

The natural environment gives us a wealth of services that are difficult to measure in dollars.

Natural areas help clean our air, purify our water, produce food and medicines, reduce chemical and noise pollution, slow floodwaters, and cool our streets. We call this work ‘ecosystem services’.

This cross-section of a wetland illustrates some of the benefits natural and designed wetlands can provide, including:

  • Food and habitat for wildlife Lizards, fish, frogs and waterbirds feed on wetland plants, small fish, worms, crayfish, and aquatic insects. These smaller animals, along with bacteria, break down dead organisms that sink to the bottom, which produces nutrients that help wetland plants grow.
  • Improved waterway health Wetlands purify water from drains and natural waterways. Reeds, plants, and algae help filter toxins, chemicals, harmful bacteria and sediment. This is further broken down by small animals and microorganisms in the silt. Cleaner water is then returned to rivers, creeks and waterways.
  • Good for our wellbeing Wetlands provide food, medicine and materials. In our cities they give us vital green space and a chance to enjoy nature. Wetlands are also spiritually important for Aboriginal people and other cultures.
  • A more stable climate Wetlands break down and store significant amounts of carbon within their plants and soil, instead of releasing it into the atmosphere as carbon pollution.
  • Flood control Wetlands soak up excess water from heavy rainfall, which is stored and slowly released back into the environment. Wetland vegetation helps stabilise creek and river banks. Saltmarshes and mangroves help protect our shorelines and river banks by slowing erosion from floods and storm surges.

Green spaces help keep us healthy

Woman walking away from camera on a footpath in Sydney bordered by green bushes.

Nature thrives in healthy ecosystems, and so do we. For example, plants stimulate the imagination and help us concentrate, reduce stress and fight disease.

  • People who live close to nature are more likely to be social, know their neighbours and experience less crime.
  • Suburbs with more trees and fewer paved areas are cooler. It’s important to green our neighbourhoods. Our climate is changing and we’re likely to face more hot days above 35⁰C.
  • Hard, impervious surfaces like concrete increase runoff from heavy rain, resulting in more damaging floods. Green or planted areas reduce the risk of damaging floods, slow water flow down, and filter water before it enters our waterways.

Find out more about the vital relationship between biodiversity and human health.

Protect the benefits we get from nature

You can help keep our ecosystems healthy by encouraging and improving the natural environment around your home and neighbourhood. For example:

Nature makes life richer for the Nadas family

Clare Nadas standing next to her verge garden with her dog. The garden has a pink grevillea at the front.Clare Nadas is a big fan of what nature provides for her family and local wildlife.

Clare has turned her front yard and verge into a garden full of native plants that provide food for local birds, including sulphur-crested cockatoos, pardalotes, superb wrens and wattle birds.

‘As a migrant, spending lots of time with Australian plants and animals in nature helps me feel attached to this landscape and feel more at home, so I decided to regenerate the garden with natives. It feels better growing native plants, which are also much lower maintenance – plus I love having magpies and cockatoos around.

‘Working on the verge garden is social too – I often meet neighbours and parents with their children who like to stop to see what’s happening in the garden.’ Clare has also seen the benefits of being in nature to her children. Her family regularly travels to places where they can take their children ‘wild swimming’.

‘Living in the city can be very busy, so we have started to take the children out to bushland and fresh waterholes near Sydney. The kids, love it – they feel free in nature and it’s built our kids’ strength and confidence in the water. They come back happy and sleep well at night.’

Two people walking away from camera on path surrounded by large trees and greenery.

Trees and green spaces are good for our heads. They:

  • reduce migraine and severe headaches
  • increase our pain threshold
  • improve mood and self-esteem
  • calm us down and help us deal with stress
  • decrease depression, anger, anxiety, hostility and frustration
  • help us concentrate, think more clearly and learn new things
  • reduce tiredness and help us relax
  • connect us spiritually – nature is good for the soul.

Being in nature helps us stay healthy and fight disease. A dose of green can:

  • lower heart rate and blood pressure
  • boost natural immunity to disease
  • reduce allergies
  • speed up healing and recovery from trauma
  • reduce death rates from lung and heart disease
  • decrease incidence of obesity
  • lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes
  • help us feel happier, healthier and live longer.

Sam Crosby, Coordinator of Education and Community Programs at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands, says the best thing about nature play is the magic moments that happen when wildlife turns up.

‘A blue-tongue lizard, a kookaburra, a long-finned eel. My favourite was when one of the kids who had been coming to us for a while was the first to spot that we had Boobook owls in the park. Even our daily bird group didn’t spot them. She was so stoked and was really proud. She was a hero to those bird watchers.’

Child jumping in the air with arms spread wide in the Wild Play Garden at Centennial Park.

Sam’s work includes education programs at the Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden. This state-of-the-art nature play space is designed to engage the 5 senses and help connect children with nature.

‘Play in nature is an all-round winner,’ Sam says. ‘It’s a great way to make friends, massage the imagination and a fun way for kids to know their own limits through challenging and adventurous play.’

‘I can see benefits within hours, particularly around physical capabilities.’

Sam also says that nature changes behaviour. ‘There’s more cooperation that comes out of nature play. A lot of visiting educators who bring their kids along remark on how little behaviour management they have to do. It then gives them a chance to really get to see their children in a positive way and it creates a platform to build rapport.’


Tree-lined Sydney suburbs have cleaner air compared to other suburbs. That’s good news, given air pollution kills more Australians each year than traffic accidents.

This video by the Inner West Council shows what trees planted on the street can give to urban environments.

Faced with rising temperatures, Penrith City Council is planting more than 100,000 trees to help cool down their area.

Trees help reduce the ‘heat island’ effect – that’s when heat is absorbed by hard surfaces in urban areas (such as unshaded pavements, roads and buildings). This heat is then radiated back out, making urban areas significantly hotter than surrounding regions.

City surface temperatures can be 10–20 degrees hotter than air temperatures because buildings, roads and other hard surfaces absorb and store heat. Numbers on this photo indicate degrees Celsius. The hottest temperatures are indicated in orange to red and the cooler temperatures are blue.

Photo: City surface temperatures can be 10–20 degrees hotter than air temperatures because buildings, roads and other hard surfaces absorb and store heat. Numbers on this image indicate the temperature in degrees Celsius. The hottest temperatures are orange to red and the cooler temperatures are blue. Jason Dowling, Courtesy of City of Melbourne.

The NSW Government has a range of grant programs available for community groups and local councils that support projects to protect and restore native vegetation in Sydney. For more information check out the NSW Environmental Trust grant programs.

Replacing hard surfaces with plants, including trees, will help cool our environment as they provide shade and reflect heat.

Trees can also increase the value of property, including those growing along your street.

Research on the Sydney suburbs of Annandale, Blacktown and Willoughby estimated that 10% more tree canopy in street trees could increase the individual value of local properties by $50,000.