Finding Nature

This week we marked the arrival of spring, and in the weekly Monday staff briefing, I commented what a magical time of year it is as we see trees start to bud, the flowers begin to bloom, and the birds return from their winter migrations. As humans, we are deeply connected to nature, and the arrival of spring can be a powerful reminder of our place in the world. 

Spring is my favourite season as it is a time of wonder and joy. After a long and cold winter, the warmer temperatures and longer days can have a profound impact on our mood and outlook. We feel more energised, more optimistic, and more eager to engage with the world around us. We want to spend time outside, soaking up the sunshine and breathing in the fresh air. 

The National Trust published a document called ‘Noticing Nature’. One of their key findings is that for many people nature is no longer an integral part of their life, and the results are quite sad. Just 19% of children regularly notice wildlife and in the past year, 57% of adults rarely or have never watched the sunrise, whilst only 27% frequently watch clouds. As a geographer, I am genuinely not even sure how that’s possible! Listening to birdsong and looking at the stars are things humans have been doing since the dawn of time and these activities are free. Nature is constantly changing and evolving and yet too often, just goes unnoticed. 

The report also uncovers a powerful link between nature, happiness and feeling that life is worthwhile. Connecting to and noticing nature has a significant impact on our wellbeing, both physical and mental. In fact, it was found that the top 25% of people connected to nature had scores of general health that were 9% higher than the rest of the adult population. Spending time in nature can lower our stress levels, boost our immune systems, and even improve our cognitive function which in turn, we feel more grounded and connected to the rhythms of life. 

The key message here is although encouraging people to spend time in nature is a good thing; however, it’s only a first step, for maximum benefits to human and nature’s wellbeing, there is a clear need to encourage people to spend time with nature. The National Trust’s Noticing Nature project is all about starting small. By spending time with nature, noticing the natural world, such moments are a defining factor when it comes to taking pro-nature conservation action. Noticing nature in small ways every day could lead to radical results. This also suggests that modest, everyday and attainable connections can help support the kind of connection which then translates into greater action to protect nature. Moreover, simple activities such as actively listening to birdsong, smelling wildflowers and watching butterflies and bees are activities that are strongly linked with taking action. 

‘There are always flowers for those who want to see them’ – Henri Matisse. This quotation might be understood more symbolically as a commentary on the way we perceive life overall. We can become overwhelmed by anxiety and no longer open our eyes to see the positive in our lives. As such, connecting to nature is deeper than just spending time outside; it is about feeling part of the natural world and not separate from it. So, let us experience nature first-hand this spring and through that encounter, gain a new perspective on our own lives and on the world around us.