White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) feeding on a Wild carrot (Daucus carota) flowerhead, on the east side of Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, Devon

Connect to nature

Laura White
Laura White
White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) feeding on a Wild carrot (Daucus carota) flowerhead, on the east side of Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, Devon © National Trust Images & Nick Upton

I’ve written many articles about people’s connection to nature; it was an important theme in numerous essays I wrote at university and is something that just makes sense to me.

If you have a connection with a special place, you’re more likely to look after it. Some of us feel that connection with the whole planet, others to a particular place from childhood or a place where they just feel drawn to and at home when they’re there. I have a friend who has lived in Plymouth for years and says that whenever he comes to Dartmoor to visit, he stops the car in the same place, gets out and just takes in the view of the moor, feeling the calming atmosphere envelop him and he feels that sense of ‘home’ wash over him.

The National Trust has recently undertaken a study that shows that those who make small, every day connections with nature are much more likely to take action to protect it and those with an active ‘engagement’ with nature are more likely to help tackle the nature crisis.

The charity has recently launched a new campaign to encourage people to become more engaged with their natural surroundings. This is not a new idea; many have tried before and, I’m sure, have made a difference. The thing I like about this campaign is that it isn’t all about volunteering to clear a ditch or joining in on a big tree planting scheme. Although these things are great, it doesn’t reach everyone as people are busy, people sometimes don’t have the confidence to go and join strangers, and they miss the organised events and then feel guilty that they could have joined in and done their bit, but didn’t.

Last October, the State of Nature report made for pretty depressing reading, stating that 41% of species are in decline since 1970 and 15% of species are under threat from extinction. Clearly, something needs to be done. The National Trust have come up with a really user-friendly week-by-week guide to help every day, busy people begin to build a connection with nature, and the great thing is, some of the activities are things that we (hopefully) all did as children but have become too busy and immersed in grown up life to do now. I wonder if some of us even realise that we stopped doing them and haven’t thought about them for years.

These things include actively listening to birdsong, smelling wildflowers and watching butterflies and bees. Small things that mean that in order to do this, we have to take time out from working, doing the washing, cooking dinner. Take time to slow down and just be in the moment, consciously
using our senses and taking time to mentally process nothing but what we can hear, smell and feel.

This, in my opinion, is the best way to begin a connection to nature. Start with your emotions, not a spade. There are also other activities which are a bit more pro-active, such as planting something to grow in your garden or on your windowsill, sketching a flower or animal or building a home for animals such as hedgehogs.

During their research, the National Trust looked at some simple actions to help nature, identified those most linked with taking action and surveyed people to find out how many engaged in these activities.
They were –
•    Watching wildlife (e.g. bird watching etc.)
•    Listening to bird song
•    Smelling wildflowers
•    Taking a photo / drawing or painting a picture
   of a natural views, plant, flower or animal
•    Taking time to notice butterflies and /or bees
•    Watching the sun rise
•    Watching clouds

They discovered that just 14% of adults and, alarmingly, 10% of children, engaged with these activities.

In a press release from the National Trust, Professor Miles Richardson Head of the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby said: “This report for the first time demonstrates that simple everyday acts of noticing nature that build a closer connection are key to people taking action for nature.

‘In our analysis we discovered that the kind of connection that makes the difference involves more than simply spending time outdoors – instead it’s about ‘actively tuning in to nature, regularly spending simple, bite-size moments relating to nature around you’.

Andy Beer, Noticing Nature Project Lead at the National Trust said: “With the current nature crisis, people may feel powerless in the face of the
daunting task of helping halt its decline.  But evidence shows that small, everyday interventions in peoples’ lives can lead to real meaningful change that could add up to make a huge difference.

‘Daily ‘doses’ of nature are vital to making this connection.  The fantastic thing about it is that it’s not hard for people to do.  Whether it’s on the way to school or work, on a day out with family or friends or simply spending time at home – there are many ways we can all take time to actively experience nature.

‘For instance, watching clouds, watching wildlife, watching a sunrise or staying up to look at the moon or spotting starts, are all part of becoming more connected – and it’s not just about becoming more conservation-minded. It’s great for your wellbeing too.”

The research also found that children were more likely to report feeling happy if they:
•    Had a higher level of nature connectedness
•    Engaged in meaningful activities linked to
   nature such as writing songs or poetry about
   nature or celebrating natural events
•    Relaxed in nature (e.g. sitting and relaxing in
   a garden).

Conversely children were less likely to report
feeling happy if they:
•    Avoided nature (spent time indoors)
•    Showed annoyance linked to nature (for
   example, complained about pigeons, seagulls
   or wasps)
•    Said that they felt they were less connected to
   nature than they were one year ago.

For more information, see nationaltrust.org.uk/features/connect-to-nature.  The National Trust’s ‘Every Day Nature’ book is also out in April, which is full of top tips of how to spend time in nature every day of the year.

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