HEDGEHOGS, bird tables and getting out in the garden could all have a role to play in combating health inequality, a Tory MP has said.

Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow praised the value of brisk country walks and growing things in the garden, as she called on ministers to pave the way for "green treatments" and better access to nature.

In a backbench debate on health inequality, Ms Pow said: "Gardening, physical activity, but also watching things grow out of the soil is so beneficial.

"In fact, the Royal Horticultural Society have done research to show that 90 per cent of UK adults say that just looking at a garden makes them feel better.

"Doing something in it is better, but you know, there was some recent data about watching a bird table, watching the birds on a bird table, and hedgehogs.

"If you got a chance to watch a hedgehog, that would make you incredibly happy, because actually they're so rare now. I got terribly excited when I saw one eating my cat food recently."

Ms Pow said the natural world was a "vastly under-utilised tool" in efforts to combat obesity and improve physical health, while she also praised its potential impact on mental health.

She added: "It has been demonstrated that mental health can be aided by being in contact with nature.

"As a keen gardener myself, as well, I can absolutely vouch that getting your hands in the soil, watching things grow, planting a seed, watching the seasons change, definitely does lift the spirits and is a pick up."

Ms Pow stressed to her fellow MPs that while these were not the only solutions to Britain's health challenges, there were statistics backing up the power of nature.

She said people living 500 metres from a wood had better health overall, while mental health charity Mind has backed eco-therapy.

"I'm a firm believer in the therapeutic power of a brisk walk in the beautiful Somerset, or maybe we could stretch to Devon, countryside," said Ms Pow.

"It seems a no brainer to me that if we could improve access to green space and look into the idea of beginning to prescribe these green treatments, we could really make a difference to health and the inequalities in health."

Ms Pow was backed by Dr Sarah Wollaston, the chairwoman of the Health Select Committee, who said an inactive person spends 37 per cent more time in hospital than an active one.