Iesha Small

writer, speaker, charity strategist

Exploring society, education, leadership and how to live a meaningful life.

5 ways to improve nature connectedness

My children walking in a dried up river bed.

Nature connectedness is a person’s sense of their relationship with nature. It has been linked to positive wellbeing. This article outlines 5 research informed ways to improve nature connectedness. They could form a framework for activities for young people and other members of society who would benefit from wellbeing gains associated with nature.

You are standing in a clearing surrounded by trees. You cannot see or hear another person. The grass comes up to your knees. You take time to look around. You notice butterflies. A bee enters a deep purple flower nearby. This scene reminds you of places where you spent happy hours as a teenager, laughing and talking with friends. You close your eyes to savour this moment of tranquility and feel the warmth of the sun on the left side of your face. As you pay more attention you notice birdsong, you hone in and realise that there are at least 4 different types of birds sharing this space with you. You hear the rustle of leaves in the light breeze. Suddenly you hear children calling to each other, laughing and running closer. It’s time to go.

How do we create a relationship and connection with nature?

Nature connectedness is a person’s sense of their relationship with nature. It has been linked to positive effects on wellbeing and pro environmental behaviours. I grew up in London but had many day trips to the Surrey and Hampshire countryside with my Grandad to visit old friends who he’d known since arriving in England from Jamaica. I loved spending time with Grandad and there were always other kids around to explore the nearby forests with. These trips probably started my love of the outdoors and positive associations with it.

I still remember watching a group of London teenagers be delighted and bemused by the New Forrest ponies roaming wild as our coach drove through tiny villages on the way to our activity residential. I was one of the teachers on the trip and it was great to see the effect of a different environment on young people who were more used to tall buildings and an excess of concrete in their everyday lives.

Recently I attended an online conference in my day job as Head of Strategy and Policy at YHA and was interested to learn what the research showed about how to create a new relationship with nature.

Pathways to nature connectedness

Research suggests there are ways to create a pathway to nature connectedness. This is good news for organisations who want to create a framework which will help them design activities to improve nature connectedness. These activities could be for young people and other members of society who would benefit from the wellbeing gains associated with being connected to nature.

The overall principle is to design experiences that allow people to notice the good things in nature.  This can be done via

  • Senses
  • Emotion
  • Beauty
  • Meaning
  • Compassion

30 days wild from The Wildlife Trusts is a programme that has tried to do this. I’ll explore each aspect briefly below.

Senses

Actively engaging with the natural world around you via your senses is one path to nature connectedness. It can be in a rural or urban environment. For me now, that means looking up and seeing red kites circling in the sky as I walk to our local shops. If you live in a city it might mean stopping to look at the colours on the pigeons before shooing them away from your sandwhich or noticing the line of ants at the bottom of the brick wall you just walked past. For many people it could be taking off their headphones for a short while to notice birdsong. For others it could be walking barefoot on the beach or park to feel a different texture underfoot or the noticing the smell of freshly cut grass.

Emotion

To foster nature connectedness, activities need to evoke positive emotions such as joy, delight and calm. Examples could be

  • Watching wildlife at play. I remember stopping to watch some squirrels chase each other in small a central London park close to Euston Station on the way to a meeting.
  • Embracing nature at times of sorrow. I’ve written about that here.
  • Taking time to marvel at the feat of design and engineering that is a spider’s web.

 

Beauty

Noticing and appreciating beauty in nature is another pathway to nature connectedness. Some examples could be

  • Creating wild art
  • Painting or describing the amazing colours of insects you’ve seen
  • Taking a photo of a flower
  • Visiting a place with an amazing view.
  • Describing a beautiful view or landscape.

Meaning

To create a pathway to nature connectedness, nature has to mean something personal to the individual concencerned. For me, time in nature reminds me of great times spent with people I love and care about. It also reminds me of peace and soothing during difficult periods in my life. Nature has increasingly become part of the narrative of my life (the paragraph at the start of this article was about a visit to our local woods with my children). Examples of how meaning could be created given during the conference were:

  • Religious and folk tales about nature
  • Including nature in our stories about ourselves and our lives

Compassion

Compassion as a pathway to nature connectedness is about appreciating our place as a wider community of nature that involves other people and species too. Putting out bird feeders and participating in beach cleans or litter cleans in your local area are ways that can add to this type of compassion.

Art over knowledge

Knowledge is a great thing, of course I’d say that as a former maths teacher.  Nowadays as a writer, speaker and somebody who uses story telling in many aspects of my work and personal consultancy I also recognise that sometimes art has the edge. For real emotional connection with a topic, appealing to the heart and emotions is often what can lead to lasting shifts, which can then be supported by knowledge and facts. For nature connectedness artistic projects have been proven to be more powerful than nature knowledge quizzes and trails.

Nature connectedness has been proven to improve wellbeing, use the 5 elements of senses, emotion, beauty, meaning and compassion to create experiences that improve nature connectedness for yourself and others.

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This research bits of this post are from my personal notes taken during the online conference “Nature Connectedness: Evidence Review and Policy Implications”. Mainly from the session delivered by Ryan Lumbar of the University of Derby. I attended the the conference in my capacity as Head of Strategy and Policy at YHA. Views here are my own.

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If you are interested in the human side of leadership then my book The Unexpected Leader is for you.

 

5 ways to improve nature connectedness