Having access to nature provides great benefits to mental health, and is especially important for young people growing up in our cities. RSPB England's Asma Faraz tells us more

Young people pond dipping

Image: Young people pond dipping at RSPB Rainham Marshes (David McHugh, RSPB Images)

The Benefits of Nature

Getting prescribed fresh air and nature by the doctor might appear outdated and “Victorian” but it is currently being trialled as a treatment in Dundee, with doctors giving out nature GP prescriptions. It appears that once again we are starting to acknowledge the immense benefits greenspaces provide to our health and wellbeing. There’s an endless list- from nature reducing mortality and illness levels to stress reduction. In some ways the outdoors acts as a therapist: anger and loneliness reduction, relaxation, confidence and self-esteem building, peer support and connecting to the local community. While all this is recognised it is both understated and underrated and this may explain why nature is not made an accessible and viable time filler for young people; especially those living in cities.

Living in cities, nature can appear removed and other-worldly with this being heightened in inner-city hyper urbanised areas. To some it appears improbable that there are urban young people who haven’t ventured outside their city but to others this is the norm. After all, it has been said that young people spend less time outdoors than prisoners do. It is no surprise then that there has never been such a stark detachment between young people and greenspaces and a perception that there is no desire to remedy that from the younger generation.

Not Everyone Can Access Nature

It needs to be recognised that natural areas can be unnatural to some individuals, developed through a lack of exposure and education. Being raised with outdoor activities and visits to stunning areas situated in our countryside, for the most part, can come down to where you were born. In rural and suburban areas, or affluent, school visits and family outings that are nature orientated are commonplace. However, inner-city children may experience just one visit to the countryside during their school years. There is an inequality in terms of access to nature and who has the most use out of it.

Nature can be appreciated in your own garden with perhaps a variety of plants growing and animals visiting. Although, in some areas, many gardens are often concrete, small or even non-existent. It isn’t a universal reality that greenspaces and nature can be adequately accessed within the confines of your own home. City greenspaces provide an escape and simply the space to carry out activities like sports and socialising. Many young people who don’t necessarily care for nature still have a fondness for their local park but do not recognise these as spaces that they can experience and connect with nature. During the warmer months, the play area will be overrun with children, the basketball court always occupied by a group and families and friends dotted around, sprawled on the grass. There are few, if any, places you see communities come out in such a way- parks are where communities connect, communicate and bond.

Most young people would want their greenspaces looked after and maintained. It is unlikely that they will dedicate themselves to save environments that they haven’t visited or have no personal connection to, but opportunities should be created for young people to help preserve the places they do know. Local parks could open up to hold nature-based conservation activities for young people, so a lasting dedication to nature is created in a familiar environment. Such places that encompass all generations are cherished and this attachment should be taken advantage of to benefit local nature.

Members of the NCCB project lounging in woodland

Image: NCCB project members (Charlotte Trigg, RSPB Images)

My Personal Connection with the Project

My local park was a way for me to remain connected with nature growing up. I didn’t visit the park with that intention- I wouldn’t be on the hunt for creepy crawlies or on the lookout for birds. Nevertheless, being amongst grass, trees, ponds and open space was a subconscious reminder for me of the beauty of nature. Within natural spaces it is a universal feeling to feel content and appreciative of the present in a way that can be rare. This Kickstarter role is something I viewed as an opportunity to work within a nature organisation, see how nature is saved behind the scenes and just be grateful to operate within the environmental sector for a time. Yet learning what the NCCB project entailed has been something important to me on a personal level. Remembering visiting the tiny strip of wild garden in my primary school’s playground and playing in the park with my family gives me an understanding of the bonding and joy that will come out of the NCCB project. The Prince’s Trust strand looks to address a lack of experiences and opportunities in the Midlands that I experienced when searching for environmental courses or apprenticeships, placing a spotlight on the issue of young people perhaps wanting to venture into the environmental sector yet finding nothing available.

Being able to observe the push to educate and engage various communities within the city has emphasised the importance of actively saving nature to me and I aim, in the future, to do the same. Nature is something we collectively destroy and exploit yet it is also something few strive to save and preserve. It is constantly dismissed and although its destruction is saddening to most, it doesn’t go past the just feeling sad.

The NCCB project seeks to incorporate all people in the effort to save nature, especially those groups who have limited exposure. Powerful change can come from people who are merely educated. This is especially key amongst young people who, if educated and empowered, can take this into the future. Careers which include and nurture future changemakers. It can be easy to look at individuals such as Greta Thunberg and feel as if you can’t make an actual difference in comparison. But nature is everywhere and needs to be saved everywhere. Volunteering at your local park, community gardens or reserve, planting flowers- these all make a difference.

There are endless ways to aid in saving our natural world and each is incredibly fulfilling. A co-worker mentioned that when it is not readily available, access to nature actually increases in importance. This way of looking at things can succinctly summarise the basis of the NCCB project, where the universality of nature is being presented and cultivated for people who are possibly losing out on the benefits that being connected to nature can bring.

  • A powerful article, based on personal experience and I agree absolutely that we should be doing more in urban areas to connect people with nature. What part should RSPB play in this? (and what does NCCB stand for please?!)