Iesha Small

writer, speaker, charity strategist

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

Why being connected to nature matters

 

den made of sticks in the woods big enough for two children to sit inside.

The 9 year old’s first ever den made from fallen branches in our local woods.

What is nature connectedness and why is it important for wellbeing?

Imagine your favourite or most powerful experience of being in nature.

How did it make you feel?

What could you see?

What could you hear?

How did it give you a new respect for nature?

This is how Ryan Lumbar, from The University of Derby, kicked off his session about pathways that provide connection to nature. I immediately thought of two experiences related to the sea. One was  visiting the sea repeatedly after my grandad died for a sense of calm and connection to something much bigger and more permanent than me. The other was around this time last year.

I had a work trip to find out about the school system in British Columbia, Canada and was lucky enough to be able to add a few leisure days to my trip. On one of them I impulsively decided to go whale watching, with a small tour company in Vancouver. Our party saw a family (pod?) of humpback whales. It was amazing. The ship’s crew was obsessive about plastic and rubbish of any kind. During the journey out to sea to find the whales, they explained to us about how plastic in the sea had been negatively affecting various whale populations and I’ve been hyper vigilant about plastic bags etc in nature ever since.

What is Nature Connectedness?

Nature connectedness is a person’s sense of their relationship with nature. It is a phrase fairly common in nature and environmental circles these days but it was hardly used pre 2000. It’s a psychological construct measuring how much a person feels part of the natural world.

Why does nature connectedness matter?

A growing body of research has linked nature connectedness to pro environmental behaviours. My vigilance around plastic bags after seeing humpback whales in the wild is a small anecdotal example.

Nature connectedness has also been linked to positive effects on wellbeing.  Interestingly there is a dip in nature connectedness during adolescence.

What types of activities can increase our nature connectedness?

  • Listening to birdsong. We did this after the kids made their first ever den in the woods.
  • Watching animals play. I had great fun with the 6 year olds recently watching some squirrels play chase in and between the trees.
  • Noticing dramatic skies. The kids often call us when they see a cool sunrise out the window.
  • Noticing urban animals, such as foxes, if you are in a city environment.

I mentioned a foreign trip but the truth is that nature connectedness is really about being more aware of nature during the minutes and small moments  of your day not necessarily about one off of expensive visits. One of the 6 year olds is always stopping to touch and smell some flower or other and some friends of ours have a small video cam in their garden that they really enjoy capturing the hedgehogs on during their nocturnal visits.

 

The sound of birdsong, probably recorded in our garden.

Wider implications for nature connectedness?

I’ve become increasingly interested in social prescribing recently. Social prescribing is a way of looking at people’s health in a wider way and prescribing non-clinical solutions.  NHS England states that

Social prescribing works for a wide range of people, including people:

  • with one or more long-term conditions
  • who need support with their mental health
  • who are lonely or isolated
  • who have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing.

 

Given the mental health benefits of  nature connectedness, link workers may choose to refer  people presenting with reduced wellbeing to local groups doing conservation volunteering or related activities.

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

For more about children and their engagement with the environment. Natural England’s MENE Children’s report (produced annually) is a great summary

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

Why being connected to nature matters