Nature Connection Useful Links

Here are links to a selection of useful websites and publications to help with ideas to increase nature connection and reading for interest. Let me know if you’d like to see a section on a particular topic – I’ll add more over time.

 

Useful resources for teachers and parents

Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Birds (RSPB)

RSPB give nature a home in your garden

https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/

Here’s their YouTube channel for great videos on activities to help wildlife find a home near you (compassion pathway to nature connection!):

https://www.youtube.com/user/rspbvideo

 

Sensory Trust

For inclusive and sensory design, using nature and the outdoors for the health and wellbeing for people living with disability and health issues, their families and carers.

http://www.sensorytrust.org.uk/

For creative activities involving the senses and using the outdoors and nature.

http://www.sensorytrust.org.uk/information/creative-activities/index.htm

 

The Wildlife Trusts

For places, activities and information on nature and wildlife in the UK. They also run the annual nature connection scheme 30 Days Wild (check it out and take part, it’s great and proven to work!):

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/

Their pages for nature, health, and wellbeing:

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/living-landscape/nature-health-and-wild-wellbeing

David Suzuki Foundation

Canadian research, education and analysis organisation working to conserve and protect the environment.

https://davidsuzuki.org/

They have some great teachers resources for connecting children to nature:

https://davidsuzuki.org/take-action/connecting-with-nature-education-guide/

 

Selected scientific papers/reports on the benefits of nature and nature connection

Richardson et al. (2017), Journal of Ergonomics. Nature: a new paradigm for well-being and ergonomics.

Capaldi et al. (2014). Frontiers in Psychology. The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: a meta-analysis.

Richardson et al. (2015), Report for the RPSB. The impact of children’s connection to nature.

Cox et al. (2017), BioScience. Doses of neighborhood nature: the benefits for mental health of living with nature.

Wood et al. (2014), PLOS One. A repeated measures experiment of school playing environment to increase physical activity and enhance self-esteem in UK school children.

Wooller et al. (2016). International Journal of Environmental Health Research. Occlusion of sight, sound and smell during Green Exercise influences mood, perceived exertion and heart rate.

 

30 Days Wild: Days 9 to 20 – struggles to maintain momentum

Maintain momentum

I made a commitment to complete 30 Days Wild and that’s what I’m going to do. For me, a key part of the scheme is to get oneself into the habit of connecting to nature daily. However, when it’s a conscious thing to do initially, you have to maintain momentum to get that habit established. Additionally, I’ve started the Wild Happy Well blog with a view to this becoming a small business, so I’ve wanted to carve out time to do this and again get into the habit of writing and posting regularly. I’ll be honest, over the last 12 days I have struggled with both of these.

Sleep, oh precious sleep

Archie is now 7 months old and up to this point he’s been an excellent sleeper (4 month sleep regression notwithstanding!). Over the last couple of weeks however his night-time sleeping has been more disrupted and as a result I’ve been decidedly more zombie-like. That’s an understatement: I find it extremely hard to function like a ‘normal’ human being when I’ve had either very little sleep (5 hours or less), or very broken sleep (1.5-2hr chunks – although managing around 7 hours in a few chunks isn’t too bad). I had planned to post every 4-5 days throughout 30 Days Wild with daily pictures and nice stories of what we’ve done. I was also planning to continue adding more informative posts about the science of how nature benefits our health and wellbeing. But, over the last 12 days I just have not had the brain power to think ahead and plan/seize those lovely pictures, or think more critically and read more academic papers.

A lovely sunshine walk in our local park: space, green, and peace
A lovely sunshine walk in our local park: space, green, and peace

Keep going

I have however made sure I did SOMETHING every day to connect me with the natural world, however short and however small. This, for me right now, is a win. I’ve missed a couple of daily pictures over this period but I’m taking part in 30 Days Wild to benefit me and not to produce an album for others to see so I figure this is actually fine! It’s funny, looking back through all the pictures I’ve taken over the last 12 days, I’ve forgotten how much I have done which is heartening – I mustn’t be so hard on myself!!!

Random Acts of Wildness (that I can remember)!

Day 9: In the evening I started reading a paper: Cox et al. 2017, ‘Doses of neighbourhood nature: the benefits for mental health of living with nature’. Honestly, I didn’t finish it, I was too tired and needed to go to bed, but what I did read was really interesting – I’ll include it in a post sometime.

Day 10: We visited a local garden centre as a family to buy a pot and some plants for our new deck – we settled on three different types of mint so that we can use them to make our own herbal tea as well as being a nice sensory experience as we brush past them. 

Day 11: We visited the Festival of Nature on Bristol Harbourside. We visited various tents including that of Avon Wildlife Trust where we chatted to volunteers about 30 Days Wild, picked up interesting leaflets, learned about planting for wildlife in your garden and enjoyed looking at plasticine insects and bats the children had made. I also met Steve Shepherd from Shepherd’s Way show on Bristol Nature Radio and we had an interesting conversation – you never know Wild Happy Well might be on air sometime!

Day 12: I went for a walk with Archie around our local park. I was happy to see a section of verge cordoned off as a ‘no mow’ zone to allow it to go wild, excellent!

No mow zone!
No mow zone!

Day 13: Out in our garden, I am still contemplating what to do with the olive tree, and how to hard prune it (as I think this is what I’ll end up doing). It is beautiful and Archie loves watching it wave around in the breeze so it would be a shame to lose this feature. After Archie went to bed I ate my dinner out on the deck in the last rays of sunlight – a good way to reset at the end of the day.

Dinner on the deck - yes that is a potatoe waffle!
Dinner on the deck – yes that is a potatoe waffle!

Day 14: I can’t remember…

Day 15: Baby in bed, dinner cooked and eaten, I stepped outside for a breath and to do something, anything in the garden (NB: I was in a foul mood…probably down to tiredness). As soon as I entered the garden my body took a deep breath, almost subconsciously showing me I needed this. It reminded me of when Archie was on hospital and I had been with him for four nights. I was so sleep deprived, so shaken by worry for him and the constant crying and screams from the ward. When Jon stayed with him on the fifth night and I went home to get some sleep, I stepped into our garden and stood. There was bird song, green, moisture. Nature. Rejuvenation. It was incredibly healing. I’ll write about that experience another time as it’s etched into my memory, particularly how the sudden presence of nature was a balm to my poor state of mind.

Day 16: A short walk around Castle Park near the river. We heard a peregrine falcon but didn’t manage to spot it, but we did see a cormorant diving for fish!

Day 17: Watched a beautiful rose chafer beetle that landed on our deck (see featured image). Luckily we get quite a few of these in our garden, bumbling around with their deep drone-like buzz. Their iridescence in the sunshine is simply stunning to behold.

Day 18: Mega hot today so Jon and I went to B&Q early to get some form of shade for our new deck (all finished now, I must post an update following from this). Having a south-facing garden means it gets incredibly hot and with Archie no shade is a big no-no. We ended up buying an amazing ‘mega-sol’!!

The new finished deck with mega-sol which makes being outside in summer with baby sooo much easier and safer!
The new finished deck with mega-sol which makes being outside in summer with baby sooo much easier and safer!

Day 19: It was soooo hot again today and we were finally all set up for paddling pool action so Archie and I chilled out in there late in the afternoon and even had ‘bath time’ out there! He absolutely loved it, splashing around, looking at the trees waving in the breeze and flinging his squidgey fish around. I was in the pool too and it was lovely to share that experience with him – we shall be repeating this lots over the summer!

Day 20: We had a mini pool party today on the new deck! Mini in multiple senses: mini-pool, mini-people (babies), and only two of them! It’s such a great way for all of us to keep cool, be outside, and have fun.

Hopefully with the weather cooling down a bit we’ll all manage to get more sleep and then we can finish 30 Days Wild more in the manner with which we started! Here’s to maintaining momentum!

Have you struggled at all with maintaining your momentum with 30 Days Wild, or any other venture you’re going for at the moment? Let me know. How do you keep focus and re-energise your activities?

The Five Ways to Wellbeing: how to feel good and function well

Wellbeing is multifaceted

Looking after ourselves and our families isn’t always easy. Some days doing things that normally make us feel better just don’t work. Our wellbeing is a multi-faceted aspect of our overall health, which is shaped during our development in the womb, our social and physical environments, and can fluctuate on a daily basis. So, it makes sense that keeping our wellbeing tip-top can sometimes be a complex task, especially for all the different members of our families.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some sure-fire ways to boost our wellbeing, even on those days when we seem to be completely off-kilter? Or when we want to bring the whole family together and do something to nourish us all? Well, enter the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and their work developing the Five Ways to Wellbeing for the UK Government’s Foresight programme in 2008.

Archie and I spending time together, learning about fish at Bristol Aquarium.
Archie and I spending time together, learning about fish and other marine life at Bristol Aquarium.

Feeling good and functioning well

Our wellbeing encompasses our day-to-day good feelings, happiness, and overall satisfaction with our lives: whether we feel good and whether we function well. However, wellbeing is also tied to our mental capital, which includes aspects of ourselves such as our cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, and importantly our self-esteem. According to NEF, the evidence suggests there are particular actions we can take to improve our wellbeing and bolster our mental capital, and these work by enhancing how well we function within our lives. NEF distilled these down to five action themes – the Five Ways to Wellbeing (wording for each taken from NEF’s report):

  1. CONNECT with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
  2. BE ACTIVE Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy; one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
  3. TAKE NOTICE Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are on a train, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
  4. KEEP LEARNING Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident, as well as being fun to do.
  5. GIVE Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly  rewarding and will create connections with the people around you.

NEF developed a model (below) showing how wellbeing and mental capital interact with the five ways to wellbeing by enhancing how well we function. While the five ways may not necessarily be sufficient to ensure great wellbeing all the time, practicing them reinforces the positive emotions, satisfaction, resilience, self-esteem, etc., that lead to better wellbeing in the longer term. Each way promotes good functioning, which boosts wellbeing and mental capital. These then boost each other and better functioning, and so the system goes on! Are you dizzy yet?! The great thing about these ways is that they interact. Go for a walk (be active) and be mindful (take notice) or go with a friend (connect). Do a course (learn) and then apply your new skills as a volunteer (give).

A model for how the Five Ways to Wellbeing contribute to good functioning, which influences wellbeing and mental capital. The two latter components interact with each other and feedback into function to create a complex feedback loop. Taken from NEF's report: Five Ways to Wellbeing, NEF 2008.
A model for how the Five Ways to Wellbeing contribute to good functioning, which influences wellbeing and mental capital. The two latter components interact with each other and feedback into function to create a complex loop. Taken from NEF’s report: Five Ways to Wellbeing, NEF 2008.

Gimme nature

These five were the short list – there was a slightly longer list that included (drum roll please) NATURE!!! While the short-listed actions do pay lip service to key aspects of nature connection that boost our wellbeing (such as being active and taking notice), The Wildlife Trusts explore this in greater detail in their report. My next post in this series will look at the evidence The Wildlife Trusts present, and highlight some of the best ways we can all connect with nature via the Five Ways to Wellbeing. Until then!

If you’d like to read my introductions to nature for better health and wellbeing, check out my previous posts here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Nature improves our health and wellbeing: Part 2

Simple ways to enhance health and wellbeing

In Part 1, I introduced the wide range of scientific evidence proving that nature connection improves our health and wellbeing. Here in Part 2, I highlight some interesting facts we now know about how this happens. All studies referred to below are cited in The Wildlife Trusts’ report, mentioned in Part 1.

Looking at nature

Simply looking out of your window at a natural view – trees, fields, the coast – and noticing wildlife gives you and your family so much. Children who can view nature have better brain power and are more able to control their own behaviour – yes please! When you’re at work, nature views reduce stress and improve job satisfaction. Such a simple thing, but it could benefit employers so much through increased productivity and reduced sick pay! This I find incredibly powerful: hospital patients who can see nature outside get better more quickly, have fewer complications and need less pain relief. Next time you’re ill (I hope it’s a looong time away, if at all), see if you can regularly look at nature and see if you feel better quicker! Even looking at pictures of natural scenes has an effect – it relaxes your body and your mind.

Noticing the nature outside can help us feel good, improving wellbeing
Noticing the nature outside can help us feel good.

Nearby nature

I love this: using your local natural spaces helps you live longer! Woohoo, get me out there now then! It seems that using any green space has a strong positive effect on the general health and wellbeing of you and your family. It’s particularly important for children, strengthening their ability to cope with stress and improving brain power and attention. Stress reduction, enhanced immunity, more active lifestyles, lower crime rates and less aggression…spending time with your local nature can really do all this. I’ll explore the evidence for these claims in future posts as there’s just too much interesting stuff to include here and not write a tome!

Choosing to walk through local green space instead of driving, or simply having lunch in the park are great ways to experience the health and wellbeing benefits of nature for free!
Choosing to walk through local green space instead of driving, or simply having lunch in the park are great ways to experience the health and wellbeing benefits of nature for free!

Get your (active) greens

Green exercise is becoming a huge field in its own right. Just being in nature gives you benefits, just doing exercise gives you benefits – put the two together and BOOM, you get more bang for your natural buck (so to speak). The research shows that green exercise improves your health in three main areas:

  1. Psychological wellbeing
  2. Physical health
  3. Social networking

Exercising in many different environments give you these benefits, as do a variety of activities. Basically, get your active greens in whatever form you fancy and you’ll be benefiting from the synergy between nature and exercise. Interestingly, it’s the first 5 minutes of the exercise that gives you the most benefit so make those first minutes count by really being present in what you do.

Jogging in your local park can help you engage with nearby nature to improve health and wellbeing. Joining a running group is a great to get your active greens in company!
Jogging in your local park can help you engage with nearby nature to improve health and wellbeing. Joining a running group is a great to get your active greens in company!

 

Today’s task: In the comments tell me (a) your favourite natural scenes and why, (b) what green exercise do you enjoy and how do you think it benefits you?

In future posts I’ll be exploring what our wellbeing is and how you can use nature to improve yours. I’ll also be looking in greater detail at some of the recent science to find out HOW nature makes us feel good.

Nature improves our health and wellbeing: Part 1

Nature for better health and wellbeing

Being in nature helps us feel good. Recently there’s been a surge in interest in how the natural world positively impacts on human health and wellbeing. This includes the physical components of the world around us (forests, hills, rivers, etc.) and biodiversity – the plants and animals that live in it. Consequently, there’s now a wealth of scientific evidence that proves being connected to nature provides tangible benefits to our physical and mental health. So, being in nature helps us feel good and become physically healthier!

Various organisations like The Wildlife Trusts are promoting engaging with nature for the health benefits it provides.  In line with this, the Wildlife Trusts published a report in 2015 that describes the evidence for why nature is good for us. This gives me a nice way to introduce this topic that I feel so passionate about! Therefore, today’s post gives you a glimpse into some of this scientific evidence, to whet your appetite for topics I’ll be exploring in greater depth and detail down the line!

Wild swimming is a great way to get green (or blue?!) exercise
Wild swimming is a great way to get green (or blue?!) exercise

What is nature and how do we connect with it?

To me nature includes any plant or animal – I exclude pets although they provide all manner of benefits too. Your back garden, a forest wilderness, a local park, a window box – these are all ‘nature’ to me. Additionally, I consider indoor plants as valuable sources of a nature fix and I’m very keen on bringing the outside, in!

There are three basic ways to connect with nature:

  1. View nature: from a window, in a picture
  2. Contact nearby nature: get out in your garden, visit a local park, feed your local wildlife
  3. Participate in nature-based activities: walk in the woods, do some volunteering for your local nature reserve, go wild swimming
Cycling forest trails is a great way to get your green exercise
Cycling forest trails is a great way to get your green exercise

Evidence that being connected to nature is good for us

Evidence comes from many different subject areas, which means the findings give a very broad view of our health and wellbeing: immunity, self-esteem, anxiety and stress, and crime rates to name but a few!

Nature is good for health and wellbeing: evidence comes from many sources
The evidence that nature is good for our health and wellbeing comes from a wide range of subject areas.

 

Today’s task: In the comments let me know (a) what is ‘nature’ to you and (b) how do you get your nature fix?

 

In Part 2 I highlight some of the interesting ways that connecting with nature improves our health and wellbeing.

Garden shame: the reality of home improvements on a budget

As I mention in my About page, my garden will feature on the Wild Happy Well blog. I’ve put off writing about it for a little while as, to be honest, I’m a bit ashamed of it… Our garden is not the blissful natural space I hope for it to be someday. Here, I open up about why it’s the state it is and our plans to turn improve it. Hopefully one day it’ll be a gorgeous sensory space for the whole family!

Not a natural utopia…

So. I love nature. I love gardens. I love plants and wildlife. But the reality of my own situation is sadly not that I live in a utopia of wild nature haven, plants spilling out of lucious beds onto rich grass, robins merrily dancing around the compost heap slurping up fat juicy worms… Nope. My garden is a building site. More specifically, it is the unhappy, injured bystander from our house extension works last summer. The house, our home, has been dramatically improved and this has dramatically improved the quality of our day-to-day life. It all happened just in time too for Archie’s arrival, something I am extraordinarily grateful for.

Lawn, sheds and mess…

 

Slow but steady

The garden had always been a blank canvas. When we moved in there was lawn, a couple of fruit trees (fig and peach, huge YESSSS!), that was it, except a sizeable slope away from the house. We added a big shed (Jon’s beloved workshop) and my greenhouse, some raised beds with some nice plants and some decking. We were making progress, slowly but steadily and we were fine with this. However, the building works saw the deck dismantled ‘temporarily’. With me heavily pregnant, the greenhouse was avoided more frequently, which played on my mind. Jon’s workshed became a general dumping ground for stuff, which is a source of continual mental torment to the poor chap (his shed is his sanctuary. I don’t take it personally). The lawn was constantly ignored and became long, lumpy, and littered with building materials. One of the beautiful raised beds Jon had carefully designed and built became filled to the brim with rubble and wood off-cuts.

Old decking drying out…

Garden that is no place for a baby

Archie’s arrival prior to winter had no great impact on our relationship with the garden. I cocooned myself indoors over the winter months, adapting to our new life as a family of three. But as the weather has brightened and warmed we’ve looked out of our lovely new bifold doors onto this poor wreckage of a garden with increasing longing and not a little bit of frustration. The sheer scale of improvements necessary to make it baby-friendly have been just too huge to consider. This is mainly because of the cost…the house works pretty much cleaned us out just at the point when I went on maternity leave and Jon had not long been made redundant (although this has given birth to the brilliant Blackfish Engineering – check them out!). Time is also of a premium with a new baby, especially your first: weekends where the both of you can get out there and crack on just don’t exist now, for a wonderful reason of course.

Building works leftovers, and beds filled with rubble

Hope and gratitude: moving forward

However, we are now making plans to turn it around and we are excited! One recommendation from a neighbour and one exceedingly good quote later, we have a plan of how it can be improved in a fairly cost-effective manner: new decking and old to be installed, plus leveling of the lawn. Add to those someone extraordinary generosity from both of our parents and we have a decent proportion of what it will cost to make the biggest improvements. Today is Day 1 of the works, hence the ‘before’ photos: I’ll keep you posted how it goes! It will, of course, still require time, effort and frugality on our behalf to make it really come together. But it is a huge step forward towards enabling the three of us to get outdoors this summer,  the first of Archie’s life. I am so keen for nature to be a significant factor in the experiences that shape his development. This may be the only summer I have with just him and I together on a daily basis, so having our garden accessible for him this year will be so valuable.

 

A sensory garden space

Thinking further forward, I would love our garden to become a haven for wildlife and a stimulating space for all of us. Last night, I had the delight of seeing my friend Joanna Grace of The Sensory Projects (http://jo.element42.org/) and we got to discussing sensory gardens. This is something I will be researching and writing about as I’ve always had a fondness for garden design. The idea of combining the creation of a (manageable!) wild natural space that is a delicious sensory treat for the whole family is too tempting to ignore. First up, I will checking out the Sensory Trust, and their sensory garden advice!

 

Today’s task: Have you created a delightful wild and natural garden space? Or do you suffer garden shame as I currently do? What does your garden give you – peace, tranquility, home-grown produce, eternal frustration, an exercise space?! Tell me about them in the comments and please do provide any good tips or advice!!!