Using the natural environment to enhance one’s health and wellbeing is not a new idea. Readers often write to us at Nature’s Home and share the many ways in which they benefit from the ‘natural health service’ - whether it’s helped them recover from serious illness or simply de-stress from a tough day… and at all sorts of levels from idly watching bumblebees to throwing themselves into a rewarding volunteer project.

I feel that free access and connection to nature has direct physical and mental benefits for most life forms. Our own species has innately understood that nature lifts the soul and strengthens the limbs since long before Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud, or young Colin Craven was miraculously cured by the Secret Garden. 

What’s changing now is that science has been able to measure those benefits. 

There are quite a few scholarly articles online and echoed in the press, but I’ve also noticed it anecdotally within my own family and indeed myself. My boy, for example, struggles emotionally with being cooped up in the winter months. A family outing through the woods or local river meadows soon restores his good mood (and mine)… and in summer he can be found contentedly lying on his front in the garden, examining the daily lives and rivalries of our many ant colonies.

Counting Roman snail shells in the woods proves a calming and focusing experience for an energetic youngster. 

Intrigued, I felt it was time to explore this in the magazine, so we asked Simon Barnes to lend his thoughts to the subject in his column. If you’ve received your Summer issue lately, turn to page 53 for his beautifully phrased essay that had me applauding the first time I read it. 

In the whirling 21st century world of digital immersion, information overload, processed packaged food and relentless urban development, the ready access to nature that our forebears took for granted is dwindling - and with it, our collective sense of wellbeing. 

So could the government, and our own communities, do more to ensure everyone benefits from nature?

It’s not as easy as it once was - our children can no longer play out alone, our workplaces may not afford a single glimpse of anything natural. The feeling is that as a society we need to make a bit of an effort. Some GPs now prescribe a country ramble instead of routine antidepressants. Schools will ensure that children have outdoor time, with exposure to plant life as well as playgrounds. 

This is the sort of scenery to lift the spirits – and has also been shown to improve focus, performance, recovery from illness and more. (Photo: Eleanor Bentall, rspb-images.com)

A Nature and Wellbeing Act, a green paper from the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB, argues that saving nature is not just vital for the birds and wildlife that deserve a place in our world. It’s important for ourselves and our society.

The paper campaigns for an Act that would holistically build nature into our communities, education, economy and law, in order to improve public health and wellbeing, society and the economy over the next 10 years. You can join the campaign here

Meanwhile, I will continue to look for opportunities to get myself and my kids out into nature as often as possible - now thankfully even easier as the weather improves. We’re also looking forward to a summer of camping - where they literally can ‘play out’ safely amid the glories of nature.

We also make sure our RSPB junior magazines encourage our younger members to engage with - and help - nature in all sorts of ways, from creating a compostarium to collecting plastic from beaches to turn into artwork. Such activities directly help wildlife, but just as importantly they help children - with benefits including increased focus, empathy, mood and performance. Nature makes us better versions of ourselves. 

I know I’m preaching to the converted here, and am proud of our readers for already expressing that emotional connection with nature. Perhaps some people don’t recognise this, or don’t value it - but I’m sure they still benefit at some level from the sight of blossom on the trees or birdsong in the morning. 

So let’s prepare for a season of walking, gardening, fishing, wild swimming, cycling, yoga, playing golf, camping & caravanning, pub gardens or simply sitting quietly in a bird hide - and take note of how it makes us feel… then spread the word and get people thinking about how nature affects them. Improved health, performance and happiness can be found right there, under the open sky!

We’d love to know if Simon’s column (Nature's Home, Summer 2017, p53) resonates with you, or if you have experienced improvements to your health or wellbeing as a direct result of connecting with nature. Contact us at the magazine, or log in to leave a comment below. 

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