Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Doing what comes naturally

Pre-baby boomers like me will remember the 1940s musical, Annie Get Your Gun and a song from the show, Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly. The song was slightly risqué for its time, comprising such verses as:

Cousin Nell can’t add or spell

But she left school with honours

She got every known degree;

followed by the chorus:

Doin’ what comes natur’lly

Doin’ what comes natur’lly.

I sometimes recall this song when I am thinking about connecting with nature, which is certainly something that is ‘natural’ for us to do. In the presence of nature, we respond ‘instinctively’ and intuitively. We are not taught to experience the beauty of a bunch of flowers, for example, the awesomeness of a towering tree, the wonder of a coral reef or the serenity of a mountain lake. Nor have we learned to find a forest relaxing, or the view of indoor plants restful or an encounter with a ‘cuddly’ or friendly animal disarming and heartwarming. We just do.  

That is one reason why connecting with nature is easy. We have been programmed by evolution to seek it and to be rewarded for doing so.

A second reason is that nature is easy to find. It is virtually all around us. Some people mistakenly believe that nature is distant—always outdoors, often remote and sometimes alien. But nature can be in and around our homes and in our neighbourhood and suburb. It can be as close as the plants in your living room or on your balcony or patio, for example.

What’s more, we do not have to experience nature directly to enjoy its pleasures and benefits. Artworks and photos inspired by nature can stir the same emotions as the real thing, not as powerfully perhaps but just as genuinely. The same is true for other things that evoke a sense of the natural world, particularly natural materials, colours, forms, shapes, patterns and textures.

The fact that nature can be brought into homes, workplaces and urban spaces has led to the ‘biophilic design’ movement in architecture, urban planning and interior decorating. The movement is based on principles that represent the elements of nature to which we are most responsive, such as:

  • natural light that is constantly changing in direction and intensity
  • natural ventilation
  • plant and animal life
  • nature’s rhythms and cycles
  • naturally occurring still and moving water
  • beautiful vegetation and awesome scenery
  • places of calm, restoration and tranquillity

The biophilic design principles provide practical guidelines we can all use to bring nature into our lives. I have devised a Connecting with nature planning aid based on the principles. The ‘aid’ consists of 12 questions, including: 

  • How can I experience natural light that is constantly changing in direction and intensity?
  • How can I experience plant and animal life along with nature’s rhythms and cycles?
  • How can I experience open and moving water?
  • How can I experience the sights, sounds, textures, tastes and scents of nature?

Here are a couple of illustrations of how the aid could work for you.

In answer to the first question, you might think of adopting such practices as:

  • adjusting curtains, blinds, doors and shutters to admit as much natural light as possible
  • softening domestic lighting in the hour before bedtime
  • taking short walks in the early morning sunlight and again during twilight

Actions for the longer term that might come to mind include replacing solid doors with glass ones, installing a skylight or creating an outdoor fireplace or fire pit (to increase exposure to light at the red end of the spectrum).    

The second question might lead you to identify such actions as:

  • having a house, patio and/or balcony garden
  • decorating living and work areas with indoor plants
  • installing a fish tank
  • placing nature pictures or posters on your desk and walls
  • listening to birdsong CDs and DVDs, e.g., ‘A Morning in the Australian Bush’, ‘Favourite Australian Birdsong’, ‘Nature Walks – In the Forest’
  • walking regularly to look at neighbourhood gardens

Among the more distant options you might choose are spending time in local parks, bushwalking, community gardening, taking part in environmental protection programs, going on a wildlife safari, and regularly visiting scenic attractions, zoos and aquaria.

You can find the full version of the Connecting with nature planning aid in my forthcoming book, Connect with Nature: One of the Best Things You Can Do for Yourself, Others and Planet Earth.

When choosing green activities, it is useful to find out about the nature that is in and around your locality. You could start with a search of maps of your district and then do some exploring by car, bicycle or on foot. Your local council is almost certain to have information about parks and gardens and community green activities, such as Landcare. If you find places close (within a kilometre) to home, so much the better, but don’t disregard places that are further afield. You could consider visiting those weekly or monthly, maybe to add some ‘green’ variety to your walking, jogging or cycling program. Visitor or tourist information centres in your town or city could also be helpful. If there are popular outdoor recreation areas available to you, information about these could be on the Internet or in walking guidebooks and local publications.

As you may have gathered, activities for connecting with nature (or ‘green’ activities) are many and varied. You will find more than a hundred (for infants, children and adolescents as well as adults) listed in my book. There are activities for virtually everyone. This is another reason why connecting with nature is easy; we can all do it in ways that suits our individual preferences, needs, capabilities and circumstances.   

Many green activities occupy only a few minutes; some require much longer. So, you could find yourself choosing several short activities, a handful of longer ones or a combination of the two. The time spent in nature activities is important. A forest walk of 30 minutes, for example, is more likely to reduce stress than one of, say, 10 minutes. A rough rule of thumb is to devote 120 minutes per week to nature activities. But it is worth remembering that the quality of our engagement with nature is as important as its duration—possibly more so.  

In saying that connecting with nature is easy, I am aware that modern life throws up barriers and impediments to having quality time in nature—work demands, family responsibilities and the allure of social media and electronic entertainment, for example.

While many of the obstacles to connecting with nature are genuine, others are mostly in our minds. Some people are put off spending time in natural settings by misconceptions about what nature is and what nature activities involve. The mistaken belief that nature exists only in rural regions, national parks and wilderness areas, for example, rules out many green activities that can be done at home, in urban neighbourhoods and by travelling short distances to parks, public gardens and bushland reserves.

Another off-putting belief is that natural environments are typically uncomfortable and unsafe places. Misadventures in nature do occur but they are usually not as serious or as dramatic as reported in the news. The truth is that green activities lie at every point along the spectrum from easy, comfortable and virtually risk-free to arduous and hazardous. Even activities nearer the extreme end of the spectrum do not necessarily involve danger and hardship.

But if you have feelings of unease and uncertainty about natural environments, ‘wilder’ ones especially, don’t be deterred. Start your nature connectedness journey anyway with activities and in places that sit securely in your comfort zone. 

Another of the mental barriers to seeking happiness and well-being in nature stems from the culture of ‘busyness’ that can emerge in modern societies. Not only do we live crowded lifestyles, but we are coming to accept that this is as it should be, that being busy is normal and expected. My late friend, writer, inventor and artist Tory Hughes alerted me to how damaging this culture is for nature connectedness.  I asked her why people were retreating from nature and missing out on so much pleasure, happiness, personal fulfilment and friendship as a result. According to Tory, it is because people have difficulty giving themselves permission to do otherwise. Real and perceived work, social and family obligations, she said, are getting in the way of doing things that really matter to us.

Tory’s observation prompted me to compose my own connecting with nature permission statement. This is the result:

 I give myself permission to:

  • acknowledge my need for nature and to give priority to meeting that need
  • work less and play more in natural environments (especially with my family and friends)
  • find interest, emotional stimulation and inspiration in nature
  • spend more leisure time with others in natural settings, and
  • seek pleasure and happiness by connecting with nature.

Why not do something similar for yourself? Remember that to have a connection with nature is your birthright, part of your genetic inheritance and part of what being a human means. Make the promise to yourself, and act on it sooner rather than later.

Thank you for visiting.

This is the fourth post in a series on my pet subject, nature connectedness. I said in the previous post that we need to be nature-connected if we are to live well and to flourish. We have this need even though most of us live in cities and towns. It is a need that was obviously relevant to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They lived intimately with nature in savannah woodlands, forests and other natural or wild habitats. Our urban habitats are very different, so why is the need still part of our make-up?

The reason, quite simply, is that we and our ancestors are from the same genetic mould. As a result, we are as they were. Our bodies are the same as theirs and, more importantly, our brains are no different from theirs. Evolution shaped our ancestors to survive, thrive and reproduce in natural environments; it has crafted us for the same purpose. We may be making a fair fist of living in towns and cities, but that is not because we have evolved to do so. It is because we have brains that are very good at learning, thinking and creating. We may have relocated from the savannah to suburbia, but our genes have not had time to catch up with this radical change of address. We ‘modern’ humans are still a ‘wild species’, as Charles Darwin said.

Just like our ancestors, we are drawn to nature. We are born with a disposition to find nature interesting and attractive. Our babies soon display an alertness to living things, preferring to look at animals rather than toys, for example. Harvard University biology professor, Edward O. Wilson (sometimes called the Charles Darwin of the 21st century), calls this disposition, ‘biophilia’.

Biophilia prompts us to connect with the natural world. Broadly speaking, it disposes us to love nature. Love or affection is certainly at its core, but other emotions such as pleasure, wonder, awe, exhilaration and excitement are involved as well. Negative emotions, particularly fear and disgust, are also in the mix – and for good reason. The negative emotions are an aspect of biophilia referred to as biophobia. This is a necessary aspect that helps us avoid natural hazards such as snakes, dark caves, heights and excrement. Biophilia encourages us to reach out to nature, while biophobia makes us vigilant and discerning in how we go about it.

Biophilia also involves abilities. Before we can be attracted to nature, we need to make sense of it, to find it meaningful. Biophilia comes with innate sensory and mental abilities that enable us to do this. There is, for example, our astonishing ability to find order, beauty and meaning in the ragged, irregular and complex shapes of nature. We do this so spontaneously and intuitively that it is easy to miss what a remarkable ability it is. It is commonly thought, for example, that beauty is in nature just waiting for us to find. The reality is different. Beauty is not ‘in’ nature but is an attribute our brains ‘give’ to natural features and phenomena. Our brains associate beauty with the things of nature that are good for us (and, correspondingly, ‘ugliness’ with what could be harmful).

Our ability to detect more than a million shades of the colours blue, green and red is another example of the way our senses and brains have evolved to cope with the bewildering complexity of nature. This ability makes detecting fruit, nuts and other foods in the greenery of vegetation a whole lot easier. And then there is our inbuilt snake detection system. We are not born with a fear of snakes but with a strong inclination to pay them close attention. This increases our readiness to learn from others how to respond to them. (This may also be the case for some other creatures, spiders for example.) The innate survival abilities of our hunter-gatherer ancestors are still with us. They are coded in our genes—our green genes, as I like to call them (hence the title of my blog, ‘Our green genes’).

But as a disposition, rather than a hard-wired instinct, biophilia doesn’t compel us to bond with nature. It is a ‘fragile trait’, says Wilson, by which he means that it must be nurtured by being ‘used’. If its promptings are ignored, it is likely to ‘switch off’. But even switched off, it remains a very important part of who we are, part of our biology, part of our genetic blueprint.

Biophilia gave our nature-dwelling ancestors the affinity or ‘oneness’ with nature on which they built their success as hunters, gatherers, naturalists, nomads, and explorers. This affinity ensured that they would learn about the natural world and how to make it their home. Biophilia also enabled them to draw from nature the stimulation and inspiration for much of their art, dance, music and spiritual beliefs and practices. Living illustrations of this can still be seen in long-surviving indigenous cultures like those of Australia’s First Nations peoples. Without biophilia, our human ancestors would have found surviving in the wild extremely difficult and developing rich and diverse cultures even more so.

Biophilia and the need for a connection with nature are two sides of the same coin. They both feed off, and serve one another. The need for nature connectedness drives biophilia; it ‘energises’ our endeavours to engage with nature. For its part, biophilia prompts us to behave in ways that meet our need for a close relationship with nature.    

The fact that we are ‘biophilic beings’ with a need for a connection with nature requires us to broaden our understanding and appreciation of what it is to be human. As most of us live, work, socialise and play in urban environments, there is great pressure on us to let ourselves be defined strictly as urban creatures. That is a pressure we must resist because it leads to a seriously incomplete picture of who we are and what we can be. We must also see ourselves as creatures of the natural world.

With this view of ourselves, we cannot regard hunter-gatherer cultures, past and present, as primitive and ‘inferior’. The biophilic abilities responsible for the success of hunter-gatherers in their ‘wild’ world are the same as those that put a man on the moon. If we look hard enough and with open minds, we will see all the elements of the hunter-gather lifestyle expressed in our own. We may have largely ‘domesticated’ our hunting and gathering but hunter-gatherers we remain. We may have removed the need to hunt for animals in the wild by corralling them on farms and ranches, for example, but the end point is still the same. The same is true for gathering, only it is now called harvesting. We may think that scientific inquiry, technological innovation, and creative expression are the exclusive hallmarks of modern humanity. How wrong we would be. Humans have always been creators of knowledge, the inventors of tools and tellers of stories in word, song and art. The human brain’s extraordinary capacity to learn, investigate, think and create was resident in our ancient forbears no less than it resides in us.

Ju/’hoansi Bushmen

Our brains have at their disposal remarkable advances in human knowledge, technology and culture. These advances have extended the range, power and impact of human capabilities, but they have not yet modified the anatomy and functioning of our brains. These are still the brains of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The knowledge, technology and cultural ‘tools’ available to us may have amplified the power and reach of our brains—made us hunter-gatherers on steroids, you might say—but they have not changed the essence of our humanity.

Nor have these tools changed our inherent kinship with the natural world. As a species, we were, are and always will be indissociably part of that world. We cannot disregard this relationship if we are to understand fully who we are and what we are meant to be. In Stephen Kellert’s words, ‘We will never be truly healthy, satisfied, or fulfilled if we live apart and alienated from the environment from which we evolved’. For this reason, I think of connecting with nature as a mental, emotional and spiritual homecoming.      

Also, for this reason, I am challenged to re-think what we ‘modernised’ humans need to learn from people who remain repositories of hunter-gatherer insights, values and wisdom. I am particularly conscious of what these people, typically members of Indigenous or First Nations societies, have to teach us about nature connectedness. The culture of Australia’s Indigenous people, for example, is founded on the belief that people and nature are created as one. Indigenous Australians feel a profound connection with nature or ‘country’. This kinship is fundamental to their identity and entire way of life. They have a holistic engagement with a physical place that is both real and symbolic. For them, all living things are interdependent so that there can be no separation of person and country, no separation of culture and nature. Variations of the same Earth-centred wisdom are taught and practised in many other indigenous cultures.

An important part of connecting with nature is tapping into this wisdom and respecting its source. It is high time that we seek to understand Indigenous people’s cultures in their own terms and not from the standpoint of colonisers. The difference between Indigenous and other people has nothing to do with evolution or levels of development. Every culture has been and always will be shaped by the world it occupies.

This is the third post in a series about connecting with nature.  

In the previous two posts, I described my own experience of nature connectedness and how I came to be a deeply nature-connected person. I recently met another deeply nature-connected person, Julia Landford. Julia is the founder of Nature Art Lab, a vibrant and unique enterprise dedicated to connecting people with nature through art and journaling (See my April 19, 2020 post for an example of nature journaling). You will find a link to the Nature Art Lab website in the blog roll on the right hand side of this screen.

Julia shares my conviction that connecting with nature is one of the best things we can do in life. A connection with nature is not just a desirable relationship; it is a relationship we need. This may seem a strange idea considering that more than half of the human population lives in cities and towns. But ask yourself this: could you do without nature contacts altogether? If it were possible to create an environment that provided an excellent quality of life but was devoid of nature, would you want to live there?

These are not entirely fanciful or ‘hypothetical’ question. For scientists involved in planning space travel to Mars, the questions are very real. It is no small matter to ask people to spend seven or so months hurtling through the blackness of space in a plastic and metal capsule. Nature deprivation of this kind and duration could have unanticipated and damaging consequences. 

Mary Roach, author of the book, Packing for Mars, The Curious Science of Life in the Void, tells of a man who had spent a winter at the South Pole research station. After returning to Christchurch, New Zealand  (where the International Antarctic Centre is located), he and his companions spent a couple of days just wandering around the city savouring flowers and trees.  

Australian journalist, Peter Greste tells a similar story. When released from an Egyptian prison in 2015, after spending 13 months facing spurious political charges, he was asked what he would most like to do. Part of his answer was: ‘Watching a few sunsets. I haven’t seen one of those at all for a very long time, watching the stars, feeling the sand under my toes — the little things’.

Were the Antarctic expeditioners and Peter Greste simply re-acquainting themselves with familiar forms of nature or were they on a nature ‘binge’ as a reaction to being starved of nature contacts?

People certainly do ‘hunger’ for nature. This is illustrated by behaviour that was observed when nuclear-powered submarines first began to spend months underwater. The vessels’ sonar rooms became surprisingly popular. Crew members lingered there to hear whale songs and other sounds of marine life. This prompted the US navy to introduce ‘periscope leave’, whereby crew were rostered to have time at the periscope gazing at the ocean, clouds and any birds and marine life that may have been about. The morale of crewmen improved significantly in days prior to the ‘leave’.

These stories strongly suggest that being deprived of nature creates a void that we are strongly motivated—perhaps even compelled—to fill. The void is one we want to avoid. Does this mean that being deprived of nature is damaging to us, to our well-being? Is nature deprivation a threat to physical and mental health? Is it a cause of illness and impaired psychological and social functioning?

Almost certainly, the answer to these questions is yes, if evidence from studies of severely nature-deprived prison inmates is anything to go by. Some years ago, the circumstances in one American prison provided an opportunity to compare the health of prisoners housed in cells with a view of scenery with that of inmates missing such a view. The prisoners in the nature-deprived cells were found to be more mentally distressed and presented more frequently for treatment at the prison’s infirmary.

This finding implies that providing ‘doses’ of nature should improve the well-being of nature-deprived prisoners. According to a second prison study, this is indeed how things work. This study was conducted in a facility where some of the inmates were subjected to 24-hour, long-term solitary confinement. Even the daily 45-minute exercise period offered no respite as the exercise yard was totally enclosed, open only to the sky. The study took the form of an experiment in which one (the experimental) group of prisoners watched a video of nature scenes as they exercised, while a comparison or control group exercised in the usual way. Over the six months of the study, the inmates in the experimental group committed 26 percent fewer violent transgressions than those in the control group. They said that watching the videos left them feeling calmer for several hours afterwards. They also reported that they felt the videos helped improve their relationship with staff and their anger management.

Viewing the nature imagery was therapeutic probably because it undid damage caused by the extreme nature-deprived conditions under which the men lived. I believe that this study says as much about the harm that severe nature deprivation does as it does about the effectiveness of nature therapy.       

Nature deprivation does not have to be extreme to be damaging. Life under COVID-19 restrictions is revealing this. Recently, a team of researchers led by Linda Tomaso surveyed 529 people from four COVID-19 locked-down US cities. They measured (a) how nature-deprived the people perceived themselves to be and (b) and how well they were feeling in terms of such things as physical and mental health, resilience, life satisfaction and sense of personal meaning and purpose. No one in the survey was totally nature-deprived, but even lesser degrees of nature-deprivation could be linked to damaged well-being.

This finding fits comfortably with the evidence that the growing disconnection from nature in most Western societies is being paralleled by a growing incidence of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. The finding also lines up with evidence from numerous studies that the closer people live to nature the healthier they are likelier to be.

Does all of this add up to saying that people need to have a connection with nature? I am confident that the likes of Peter Greste, prisoners in solitary confinement and people experiencing COVID locked-downs, would answer this question with a resounding, yes. In doing so, they would have science on their side. Behavioural scientists, Daniel Baxter and Luc Pelletier, from the University of Ottowa in Canada have assembled evidence from hundreds of studies showing that a close connection with nature is indeed a basic psychological need.  

For something to be a psychological need, it has to satisfy nine criteria, including: 

  • Positive emotions are experienced when the need is satisfied and negative ones when it is not:   Emotional (affective) consequences
  • Satisfying the need is necessary for optimal mental, social and physical functioning: Promotion of health and wellbeing
  • The need is evident across cultures: Universality
  • Learning and thinking are mobilised in the service of the need: Directs mental (cognitive) functioning
  • Many activities of daily and recreational life reflect the need: Affects many different kinds of behaviour

Baxter and Pelletier found that nature connectedness satisfies seven of the criteria (including those in the list above). The evidence relating to the other two is inconclusive.

To say that nature connectedness qualifies as a basic psychological need is a big deal—a huge deal in fact. It means nature connectedness is an essential ingredient of life. We need to feel connected with nature if we are to grow and function well (thrive) and to be the persons we are capable of being (flourish). Living without the companionship of nature is rather like playing a piano but ignoring the black keys or having a sailing boat but never using the spinnaker.

Despite its importance to thriving and flourishing, nature connectedness is a need we can easily neglect. It may take severe nature deprivation to alert us to how real the need is—to make us aware of what we are missing. We may think that we are living our ‘best’ life, unaware of the wealth of good things that nature connectedness would add. There is a big gap between living an acceptable life and flourishing.

In my next post, I will explain that our need to connect with nature tells us something very important about ourselves.  

As I said in my last post, I am a strongly nature-connected person. Nature is part of me, and I am part of it. I am extremely grateful for my nature connectedness; it is among the features of my life I most value. It has benefited me in a host of ways and made me determined to do all I can to preserve, repair and protect the natural environment. I get a buzz from helping others connect with nature. That’s what has kept me plugging away for years writing my forthcoming book, Connect with Nature; One of the Best Things You Can Do for Yourself, Others and Planet Earth.  

I have not always been a nature-connected person. My nature connectedness journey began when I was in my thirties. Prior to then, nature did not figure very much in my life. I appreciated natural scenery and enjoyed visiting natural places for recreation and socialising, but that was about it. This post provides an account of my journey—not because it is a particularly riveting or exceptional story—but because it illustrates some general guidelines for anyone contemplating or undertaking a similar journey.

The starting point of my journey was a family decision to take up bushwalking as a regular activity. Both my wife, Margaret, and I felt the need for a recreational activity that we could share with our two young daughters. With encouragement from a friend, we chose bushwalking.

Saturday bushwalks became a regular family pastime, which happily, all four of us enjoyed. The girls were unfazed by having to walk in adult company; if anything, it made them feel grown-up. The bushwalking was also good for their self-esteem. They did not mind that their peers were not into bushwalking to the extent that they were. It helped them to accept that being your own person and doing your own thing are OK.

As our confidence grew, we extended our nature activities and became a little more venturesome. For my part, the prospect of learning bushcraft skills lured me into bush camping. I found myself pitching a tent for the first time, cooking over a fire and sleeping in a down-filled bag on a bed of dry bracken covered by a ground sheet and a short piece of foam. It was strange and a little challenging to begin with, but I rapidly adapted to sleeping in a tent and living out of a pack. I discovered that there was great fun to be had in spending a night in the bush. I particularly enjoyed the delights of a campfire, especially the soporific pleasure of ‘fire gazing’— watching the dancing flames and glowing coals while chatting with others or sitting in companionable silence.

Camping overnight made me more aware of nature’s sights, sounds, scents and textures. There is the joy of waking up in a tent to the dawn chorus of birdcalls, for example, or occasionally having close-up encounters with wildlife.  It also fostered a sense of intimacy and emotional connection with nature that was quite new to me. I found myself wanting to experience nature for itself, not just as a setting for my activities. A new chapter in the story of my relationship with nature had opened.

Once satisfied that I could live comfortably out of a pack and could stay warm, dry, well-fed in the bush, I graduated to full-pack walking.  Before long, I extended my full-pack walking from two to several days, even a week or two. I did virtually all my backpacking in national parks, mainly the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park.

The canyon

Experiencing the magnificence, marvels and mystery of the Blue Mountains and places like it continued to deepen and reshape my relationship with nature. This included finding my own ‘special’ wild place—a place to which I remain deeply attached. This is my ‘heart space’, to borrow the term coined by the Australian science broadcaster and writer, Jonica Newby. My heart space is special to me for many reasons. Scenically it is exceptional, combining beautiful bushland, intriguing pagoda-shaped sandstone formations and a panoramic view. At its heart is a ‘slot’ canyon, a deep, confined and semi-dark sandstone chasm sculpted by water over millions of years. For me. it is a place of rich memories and immense pleasure, awe and wonder. I would grieve deeply if it were to be despoiled or damaged. It serves as my personal icon of ‘nature’, a portal to the ineffable vastness, magnificence and sacredness of the universe. 

Being in nature gradually became as important to me as the activities I did there. I particularly valued the emotional ‘highs’ that nature’s beauty, vastness and wonder evoke. The state of joy, contentment and bonhomie left by these highs—the ‘bushwalker’s glow’ I call it—can last for hours and even days. As these highs are addictive, I found myself hooked on nature.

Meanwhile, my wife and daughters were becoming capable and enthusiastic day walkers. So much so, that they chose to accompany me on a trek in the Himalaya of Nepal organised by an Australian adventure holiday company, Ausventure.

The trek was life changing for all four of us. We were captured by the majestic beauty of the mountains and the simplicity, routine, rhythm, fun and friendliness of camp life. The unwavering good humour and kindness of the Sherpas won our hearts. Cultural contacts with the local people were limited but those we had were heartwarming, mind-broadening and sometimes deeply affecting. Coping successfully with the physical and emotional demands of the trek was especially good for the girls – boosting their confidence, self-esteem and resilience. Overall, the experience gave us new eyes through which to see ourselves and the world. Tears were shed at the end of the trek and for days after. We had fallen permanently in love with the Himalaya and the Nepalese people.

The experience also had a strong and enduring impact on our family life. It bonded us in a way that I doubt would have happened otherwise. The girls found that partnering their parents in an activity that all found challenging was both instructive and empowering.

We returned to bushwalking in Australia with renewed zeal. Margaret and the girls ventured into full-pack walking and I introduced variety and challenge to my bushwalking by tackling other outdoor activities. These included “off-track” exploring, rock climbing and canyoning. I valued these more ‘adventurous’ activities because they helped me to learn more about myself and to grow in self-reliance, resourcefulness and my ability to cope with demanding and sometimes challenging situations.

In 1980, an adult education organisation invited me to run an introductory bushwalking and camping course. The course ran annually (sometimes bi-annually) for the next 25 years and out of it emerged the Yarrawood Bushwalking Club (about to celebrate its 40th anniversary). Soon after I began running the courses, the Ausventure team invited me to join them as an honorary trek leader. My involvement in the course,  trekking  and Yarrawood taught me about the power of nature experiences to improve mental health, build self-esteem and foster companionship.

In the late 1990s I was commissioned to write a walking and natural history guidebook. My co-author was Tony Rodd, an expert botanist. I learned from Tony the importance of revelling in the details of nature, especially those of plants.   

By any reckoning, I have had a long and extraordinarily rich association with the natural world. It was inevitable that I would become a deeply nature-connected person. As I reflect on the journey that has brought to where I am, two features stand out:

  • First, it was really, two journeys in one—the physical or ‘outer’ journey comprising the actual nature activities I undertook, and the ‘inner’ journey involving my mind and heart. Providing for the inner journey is as important as attending to the practicalities of the outer one. A general guideline for doing this can be summed up as: ‘stop, pause and engage’. Engaging mainly involves lingering in and savouring nature experiences, observing detail, and paying attention to the ‘inner’ or mental and emotional effects the experiences are having on you.    
  • Second, I set out on the journey with little concept of where it would take me and what I would get from it. I started with an activity I was comfortable with and proceeded gradually from there, doing only the things I wanted to. I did it my way, in other words.

It may not seem logical, but starting a nature connectedness journey by taking action rather than ‘theorising’ about it is a sound way to proceed.

My nature connectedness story is not quite ended. There is a chapter under way. This chapter began in 2002, the year I retired from my job as a university teacher and researcher. With more discretionary time available, I decided to find out what science has to say about the effects of nature on human behaviour and well-being. From my own experience and observing that of others I was very aware that nature did all sorts of good things for all manner of people. When I began the project, I had no idea that it would occupy me for 20 years (and counting). Nor did I anticipate how much it would transform my understanding of myself and humankind. I’ll have more to say about that in the posts to follow.

Thanks for visiting. My name is Les and I am pleased to welcome you.

I am at that stage in life when looking backwards is far more interesting and appealing than looking forwards. I am not regretful about this, as I am putting the finishing touches to a love-filled, happy and fulfilling life.

Family and friends have been a massive part of my life. No surprise there. But you may be intrigued by my second standout feature: my relationship with nature.

This relationship, called ‘nature connectedness’, provides me with a sense of unity or oneness with the natural world. As a nature-connected person, I enjoy almost everything about nature, especially being surrounded by it. I need regular doses of it just as I need love, nourishment, exercise, sleep, happiness and a sense of purpose in life. Nature is an important part of how I see myself and how the world sees me. Caring for the natural environment is hugely important to me. 

My nature connectedness is a kind of friendship. I relate to most things making up the natural world with affection, interest, respect and concern for their well-being. Take my balcony plants, for example. I value their company, and I enjoy watching them grow, flower and occasionally play host to birds.  I look after them conscientiously. I even feel regret when one of them dies. For their part, the plants give me pleasure, satisfaction, relaxation and pride in my gardening skills (modest as they are).

You may be surprised that I regard my balcony plants as nature, especially if you believe that nature is always outdoors, often remote and sometimes alien. But nature comes in many forms and is found in many different places, making it accessible to everyone. Nature can be as close as the plants in your living room or the nature images downloaded onto your computer or device. It’s true—viewing images of nature can provide some of the benefits of real thing.  

I greatly value my nature connectedness. It has broadened and built me as a person, steered my life in unexpected and highly beneficial directions, helped me to flourish and furnished me with a host of precious memories. Without it, my life would have been much less interesting, satisfying and fulfilling.

This post is the first in a series on nature connectedness. The series is based on my forthcoming book, Connect with Nature: One of the Best Things You Can Do for Yourself, Others and Planet Earth. The book explains how to become a nature-connected person and describes the good things to expect when you do.

The book’s subtitle may strike you as more fancy than fact. But it echoes the view of the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity. The 196 member-nations of the Convention meet and report regularly. The 2018 conference of the Convention issued this call for action:

The time is now. The evidence is clear. One of the most important things that any of us can do for ourselves, those we love, people throughout the world, and the living systems that support us all is to connect with nature.

This is certainly a big call, but it is backed by a wealth of scientific evidence from research in fields as diverse as environmental psychology and forestry; eco-psychology and horticulture; leisure studies and public health; architecture and neuroscience.

As the call says, a connection with nature is good for us and good for nature. For us, it is a source of happiness, well-being and health. For nature, it is critical because nature connectedness motivates us to take care of the natural environment—and if ever there was a time when nature needed our care, it is now.

I hope this series of posts does justice to the importance and value of nature connectedness. It is not just a desirable relationship; it is a relationship we need—so much so that our brains are soft-wired to help us form the relationship. As well as inclining us to bond with other people, they dispose us to engage with other forms of life (that is, with the natural world). Both these ‘biases’ reflect our brains’ fundamental mission—to keep us living, growing and reproducing.

Connecting with nature is easy because we do not have to look far to find it. It is also easy because we can do it in our own way. The story of my own journey to nature connectedness illustrates the point. I’ll share that story with you in my next post.

My apartment is in a retirement village. The centrepiece of the village is a large green space composed of a bowling green, lawn and bordering gardens of trees, shrubs, herbs and smaller flowering perennials. There are seats dotted around the lawn that are ideal spots for enjoying both the sunshine and the gardens. In my three years living here I have rarely seen the seats being used. But in the last few COVID-19 stay-at-home weeks, I often see a seat or two being occupied. This is not surprising, of course, given that travel beyond the village is restricted and residents have more time (and perhaps more incentive) to enjoy the green space right outside their apartment buildings.

But I find myself wondering whether or not being shut-in is heightening people’s appreciation of the world beyond the four-walls of our homes  – and especially that part of the world where nature is present, including our own gardens and backyards. I even permit myself the hope that what may also be occurring is a discovery and re-discovery of the joys and benefits of nature contacts. Who knows? Perhaps one positive of the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in people’s engagement with nature and even their nature connectedness.

I am nor holding my breath, as the saying goes, but such an outcome is possible if Miles Richardson’s experience is anything to go by. Miles is Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness and leader of the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby in the UK. Although now a leader in the study and promotion of nature connectedness, his personal journey to nature connectedness took place less than 10 years ago when he was an ergonomist (studying the design of furniture and equipment for workplaces).

During 2011, he exercised by regularly taking hour-long walks in the semi-rural landscape around Needwood in Staffordshire, UK. Although he felt no strong emotional connection with the Staffordshire landscape initially, he was sufficiently interested in his impressions and responses to keep a diary of them for a year. His method was to record his thoughts on a smart phone as he walked, afterwards uploading them to a PC. Overall, 255 walks were documented in this way.

This is an early entry in his diary:

Later in the day, walking through a ribbon of pine trees at Blithfield, there seemed little to be observed, just the bright green moss attempting to climb the tree trunks. I left the wood to cross the meadow, now bare and stony, yet full of red poppies last summer. Over the stile a fallen branch lay helpless, covered in lime and olive coloured lichens, with leaf-buds formed and ready. The path drops and winds through this deciduous wood and it was peaceful. It was good to stop and be surrounded, to try and sense connection. To deal with my new attentiveness to the external world the mind must form new internal connections which take time and continued engagement.

As Miles himself has acknowledged elsewhere, this early entry reveals him to be mainly an observer of nature. The entry hints at his desire for a deeper connection but conveys that such a connection still has to be forged.

Now, compare that entry with this one that appears towards the end of his diary:

There was a glorious aching stillness of powerful affect, contrasting and surpassing the intense energy of the morning’s coast. I was charged by the power of my familiar landscape and I felt alive in the stillness, as a star is bright in the night sky. Where the river was audibly unstill I looked out over the flat lands, from foreground to far, and felt that the landscape and my mind merged, my sense of self dissolved. I had arrived to dull shades of grey but heard the song of the Earth.

Much more than a detached observer of the landscape in this entry, Miles had become part of it; the landscape and his mind had merged. Familiar to him as the landscape was, his sense of oneness with it possessed the power to vitalise and enchant him.

Miles acknowledges that the walks during 2011 re-connected him with nature. They were, he stresses, ordinary walks in everyday nature. Some were in agricultural locations, but many were located in more mundane settings. Through these regular engagements Miles found a “universal story” about our connection with nature – “a story of a unity of life, mind and nature”.

The experience also fuelled his interest in the psychological value of nature generally and in nature connectedness particularly. With his researcher’s hat on, he devised a simple mindfulness activity, 3 Good Things in Nature, to test the proposition that nature connectedness can be fostered in urban as well as rural and “wild” settings. The activity is one you can easily try for yourself. All you have to do is to note each day for five days three good things in the nature that is around you. You can record you observation in writing, on your smart phone as Miles did, or otherwise. The things you list can vary from the small to the vast, from the colour of a butterfly’s wing to storm clouds illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, for example. They can be sensations, such as a bird-call or the texture of moss; they can relate to the change of seasons and the effects of the weather. The possibilities are limitless.

The three photos I have scattered through this post are of the three good things in nature I noted today. The zygocactus has just flowered and the delicate seed-pod clusters on the eucalypt branches supporting the mobiles were fully revealed only yesterday after my wife removed dead leaves (hence my delight today). I did not see the golden autumn tree in real life but the photo of it (which I did receive today) gave me a genuine nature hit anyway.

Well, does the 3 Good Things in Nature activity strengthen nature connectedness? To find out Miles and colleagues conducted an experiment in which they asked 50 people from the general population to undertake the activity while a control group of 42 people to note three factual things (e,g, a person they met, what they ate for lunch). Two months later, the 3 Good Things in Nature group scored significantly higher on a test of nature connectedness than the control group. While this one small study does not demonstrate conclusively that the 3 Good Things in Nature activity works, it is a promising start.

For more information about the work of Miles Richardson and his Nature Connectedness Research Group simply click on “Finding Nature” in Blogroll.  While you are there you really should check out another recently added link – to “Life Rocks”. For anyone interested in connecting children to nature, this is a particularly valuable site.

The prospect the COVID-19 restrictions confining us to our homes for two or three months is pretty daunting. To be stuck indoors for weeks on end with few social contacts can’t be good for us. We may even be running the risk of becoming stir crazy (“stir” is a reference to prison and comes from the Romany word, “staripen”, meaning a place from which you cannot move).

Stir craziness is not a recognised psychiatric condition but being confined indoors (with or without the comforts of home) can make people bored, dispirited, irritable, restless, listless and possibly distrusting of others. And it can be worse if the confinement involves nature deprivation. Prisoners housed in cells with no views of natural features, for example, tend to suffer more ill health and mental distress than inmates in cells with greener outlooks.  

Maintaining social contacts is a very important counter to stir craziness. So too is staying in touch with nature. This can be done even if visits to parks, beaches and other forms of nature are prohibited or not possible for other reasons. At a time when our homes are castles under siege, it is especially important to keep them as places that are physically and psychologically healthy. Nature can help us do this and the suggestions that follow indicate how.

I’ve risked overwhelming you with suggestions, but many are needed, I believe, to cater for people’s differing preferences, needs and circumstances.

It’s worth mentioning also that the suggestions are science based. They reflect especially what is known about nature’s impact on our happiness, health and well-being by way of:

  • exposure to sunshine, fresh air and natural light and other elements of nature that are good for our bodies;
  • experiences that evoke the powerful positive emotions of joy, pleasure, awe and wonder;
  • experiences that calm, restore and comfort.  

The suggestions fall into two groups: those for bringing nature indoors and those for having contact with nature even while homebound.  

Bringing nature indoors

  • open windows and doors to achieve cross ventilation
  • when their use is appropriate, place fans strategically (e.g., near an open window, in a space between rooms) to improve airflow
  • if you have one, use your room de-humidifier
  • keep floors clean by vacuuming and mopping
  • avoid practices that introduce toxic chemicals into indoor air (such as using cleaners containing formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals; burning wood or other fuels in open fireplaces; cooking on a stove without a hood; using an un-flued gas heater; allowing toxic chemicals to accumulate by not ventilating regularly)
  • adjust curtains, blinds, doors and shutters to admit as much natural light as possible
  • soften domestic lighting in the hour before bedtime
  • avoid using back-lit appliances leading up to bedtime
  • enjoy a backyard “campfire” occasionally to increase exposure to the red end of the natural light spectrum. Outdoor fireplaces, fire-pits and fire-bowls are easy to improvise if you don’t already have one. (see the following posts for more information: Sept 8, 2013, Jul 10, 2014 and Jul 21, 2014 )
  • decorate living and work areas with indoor plants such as peace lilies, dracaenas,  spider plants and boat lilies ( Moses-in-the-cradle), noting that some indoor plants are toxic to cats and dogs and that indoor plants cannot be relied on to clean indoor air of toxins.
  • have cut flowers on show (the more colourful the better)  – a guaranteed source of joy
  • place nature pictures or posters on your desk and walls
  • choose nature images for your screen saver

Nature activities for the homebound  

  • look at greenery outside for five minutes
  • go outside and feel the sun on your face for one minute
  • look at clouds (perhaps with the help of resources from the Cloud Appreciation Society)
  • watch a sunset and a sunrise
  • look at the stars
  • look at the full moon
  • watch the birds in nearby trees
  • count the birds (and perhaps try to identify them)
  • listen to the songs and calls of birds outside your home
  • look for insects and watch their behaviour
  • watch goldfish in an indoor aquarium or garden pond
  • watch skinks and/or other lizards in your garden
  • study the webs of spiders
  • smell flowers
  • crumple leaves (of aromatic plants like eucalypts and native mint bushes) and smell them
  • feel the bark of different trees
  • notice how the raindrops look on a flower or leaf
  • go outside in the early morning and look at the dew on the grass
  • lie on grass for a short time
  • walk on grass barefoot
  • read or listen to music outside
  • go for a short walk to look at neighbourhood gardens
  • go for a walk in the rain (umbrellas permitted)
  • take a short walk in the early morning sunlight (without sunglasses) 
  • have a “sunshine break” during the day (particularly important if you spend the day in artificial lighting and also for maintaining your body’s production of vitamin D)
  • look at photographic books about nature
  • look back through your photo collection and trip diaries to revive memories of past nature experiences
  • watch TV nature documentaries
  • take in some nature-related TED talks (good for sparking interest, wonder and curiosity); recommendations to start with:

Suzanne Simard. How tree talk to each other  and Alex Hannold – How I climbed a 3,000 foot vertical cliff without ropes

  • watch nature videos on You tube – just search “You Tube nature videos”
  • listen to birdsong on You tube videos, CDs and DVDs, e.g., A Morning in the Australian Bush, Favourite Australian Birdsong, Nature Walks – In the Forest
  • establish a “micro garden”: click on this link for inspiration  
  • try your hand at nature art/craft (great to share with kids): search “nature art and crafts” on the Internet

When normal activities are severely restricted, it is important to maintain order and routine in our daily lives. Nature activities lend themselves to routines, but take care not to make the activities things you feel you must or ought to do. Think of them as securing your special joy, relaxation or time-out moments.    

You might also be attracted to the idea of approaching nature activities with an “awareness plan” in mind. Such a plan covers simple ways of tuning into nature with all of your senses. You might plan to look at natural settings through different eyes – those of an artist, conservationist or photographer, for example.

I am returning to publishing blog posts after many months of writing about nature in another way. The revision of my ebook, Claim Your Wildness, morphed into a project to write a different book altogether. That project is ongoing and, after a confident start (as my previous post may have conveyed), it is back to the drawing-board.

Although I have withdrawn Claim Your Wildness, the book’s message that connecting with nature is good for us – is as valid as ever. But recent advances in the science of the relationship between nature and human well-being require a recasting of the message to highlight the importance, indeed the necessity, of “nature connectedness”.

Not to be confused with being in touch with nature physically, nature connectedness is a far more encompassing and deeper relationship. It is like being a friend of nature. Just as we relate to our friends with affection, interest, respect and concern for their well-being, we are nature connected when we have much the same kind of relationship with nature. Nature connectedness is a whole-of-person experience, involving our feelings and values and affecting our sense of who we are and what our life is about. If you would like to meet a nature connected person click here.

My interest in nature connectedness was first sparked when I learned of its association with happiness – both the feeling good and functioning well kind (see my February 2018 post ). My interest became a passion when I learned two other things about nature connectedness.

The first is that nature connectedness drives pro-environmental behaviour. If there was a time in human history when such behaviour is needed, it surely is now. Natural environments across the planet are suffering primarily because of human indifference, thoughtlessness, ignorance, neglect and rapacity. If this suffering is to be relieved, human values and actions in relation to nature have to change radically and urgently. There is compelling evidence that cultivating nature connectedness can help bring this change about.

The second thing about nature connectedness that has galvanised my thinking was unveiled in a very recent article by two Canadian psychologists, Daniel Baxter and Luc Pelletier. They showed that the need for nature connectedness is part of our psychological make-up. It is a need that motivates us to have a close relationship with other living things and natural environments in general. Satisfying the need is rewarding and beneficial to happiness, health and well-being, while neglecting it is damaging, increasing the risk of physical illness, mental distress and, in the case of children, impaired development.

As a basic psychological need, the need for nature connectedness is much more than a “want”. A want is a desire for something that would be nice to have but can be done without – an option rather than an imperative. A need, on the other hand, always arises from a requirement that is integral to life and well-being – an imperative rather than an option. Frustrate the need for water, for example, and death is inevitable; frustrate the need for loving, close, and supportive social relationships and physical and mental health is in jeopardy. Frustrate the need for nature connectedness and any chance of living our best life is missed. Living without the companionship of nature is rather like playing a piano but ignoring the black keys or having a sailing boat but never using the spinnaker.

Nature connectedness is the best and most desirable relationship we can have with the natural world. In having such a relationship, we are taking care both of ourselves and of nature. We are addressing, in fact, two of the major preoccupations of our times:

  • maximising personal happiness, well-being and health in the face of rapidly changing, uncertain and often alienating social and economic circumstances, and
  • alleviating the potentially catastrophic impact of human activity on the natural environment.

This is a big claim but it is supported by a large body of evidence from research in fields as diverse as environmental psychology and forestry; eco-psychology and horticulture; leisure studies and public health; architecture and neuroscience. It also echoes the view of the 196 member countries of the United Nations sponsored Convention on Biological Diversity. The 2018 conference of these countries issued this call to action:

The time is now. The evidence is clear. One of the most important things that any of us can do for ourselves, those we love, people throughout the world, and the living systems that support us all is to connect with nature.

I am writing this post as the world is in struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. My country is on the verge of total lockdown. “Stay at home” is the official stipulation. So much for connecting with nature to safeguard well-being, we might think. But, even in the confinement of our homes, there are ways of drawing on nature’s sustenance and comfort. This is the topic I propose for my next post.  

 

What began as a touch-up finished up a complete makeover (the molehill became a mountain).

I am not talking about cosmetic surgery but the revision of my e-book, Claim Your Wildness (CYW). This book was my first large-scale venture into sharing what I have learned over many years about the rich association between a nature connectedness and a happy and healthier life.

Since CYW was published in 2013, the scientific study of the nature-wellbeing connection has moved on apace. For most of the intervening six years, I have drawn material for this blog from the interesting and exciting research findings that have been streaming out.

But as perhaps you have noticed, things have gone very quiet on the blog front over the past year. This is not because there has nothing new and valuable to talk about. Quite the contrary, it is because what I thought would be a simple revision of CYW, requiring weeks, morphed into many months of additional writing as well as revising. So much so, in fact, that at the end of it all, I found myself with a NEW book altogether.

The new opus is awaiting a name but its working title is Nature and You: Making the Happiness, Health and Wellbeing Connection (NaY). There is nothing wrong with the message and content of CYW, let me say. Both are as scientifically valid today as they were in 2013. But as I worked through the publications spawned in the last six years, I realised that doing this new material justice required a bigger canvas than even a revised CYW could provide.

NaY comprises two parts, the first about the why of connecting with nature and the second about the how. Among topics covered in NaY but not in CYW are awe and wonder, the nature of nature connectedness and connecting with nature in difficult times.

Here is a sample of the new insights about the value of a nature connection that are presented in NaY:

  • Living without nature is rather like playing a piano but ignoring the black keys or having a sailing boat but never using the spinnaker
  • Just as feed-lot cows can never be fully cows or battery chickens fully chickens, humans confined to a constructed and technological world can never be fully human

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • A fully nature-connected person:
    • Ø yearns to be in contact with nature
    • Ø has a strong emotional attachment to nature
    • Ø is driven by a desire to learn about nature
    • Ø feels a sense of kinship with the inhabitants of the natural world
    • Ø is strongly and actively committed to the welfare of the natural environment
  • Nature is an inexhaustible stimulus of awe and wonder, both emotions with the power to make us smarter, kinder and more spiritually aware
  • People who live close to natural or urban greenspace are at reduced risk of
    • Ø dying prematurely from any cause
    • Ø dying from cardiovascular disease
    • Ø developing type II diabetes
    • Ø suffering from anxiety, depression, stress disorders and schizophrenia.
  • The potential of natural environments to influence immune- and inflammatory- regulation may prove to be a major component of the health benefits of green space
  • By comparison with their nature-deprived peers, children who have regular, rich and varied contacts with the natural world, especially through nature play, stand to enjoy a host of advantages – physical, biological, emotional, cognitive and social
  • The sharp decline over the past half-century in children’s free play has paralleled a marked increase in the prevalence of anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness and narcissism among children, adolescents and young adults
  • There are ways of connecting with nature that are surprisingly close-at-hand – “everyday’ green activities that bring nature to you in your home and workplace and activities that are easily made part of work and leisure life
  • Nature is not just a fair-weather friend but is there for us in difficult times as well – times of anxiety, grief, depression, alienation, conflict and self-doubt

 

The tonic of green space

It’s been a while since my last post. Thank you, if you have noticed. The gap does not indicate any waning of my enthusiasm for the cause of connecting people to nature. If anything my enthusiasm is stronger.

I have been distracted from my blog by the task of revising Claim Your Wildness with a view to making it available as a paperback as well as an e-book. The revised edition will be in two parts, the first covering the “Why” of connecting with nature, and the second, the “How”. The “Why” part will comprise most of book’s existing chapters plus a chapter on awe and wonder. The “How” part will be a major addition to the book and will be a comprehensive source of practical guidelines for connecting with nature in the home, neighbourhood and beyond.  It will also have a “how-to” chapter on connecting children with nature and one on using nature as a resource for health and wellness.

Speaking of nature and health, a landmark paper has just been published on that topic. The paper is based on extensive work done by Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett and Andy Jones both from the University of East Anglia Disappointingly, the paper has had little media coverage even though what it has to say is of enormous public policy as well as personal significance.

The paper does not report the findings of a new investigation but the results of a synthesis of 143 studies into the effects of access to green space on physical health. The forms of green space represented in the review cover undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban parks and vegetated streets. The studies are from 20 countries including the UK, the USA, Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan. The number of subjects involved in the individual studies varied but in some cases ran into the millions.

The strength of research reviews is that their results are obtained by pooling and analysing the actual data or “numbers” (rather than the stated findings) from separate studies. Some sophisticated statistical techniques are involved on top of the rigorous procedures that have to be followed to ensure that the pool of studies is as complete as possible and only scientifically sound studies are included. In some ways, a well conducted review is as good as doing a single massive study. This means that the results of reviews are more trustworthy than those from individual studies.

For their review, Bennett and Jones, compared the health markers (e.g., blood pressure)  and conditions (e.g., diabetes II) of two categories of people, those with little access to green spaces and those with the highest amount of exposure.

They found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration. People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress.

Back in the 19th century Henry David Thoreau wrote about the tonic of wildness to convey his belief in the health benefits of exposure to nature. More recently, the terms, “vitamin G” (for greenspace) and “vitamin N” (for nature) have been coined for the same purpose.

The findings of the Bennett and Jones review confirm that such terms are scientifically valid as well as “catchy”. We do well (literally) to see exposure to nature as an ingredient of a healthy lifestyle just as essential as being physically active, following dietary guidelines and being socially engaged. We also need to send the message to politicians, planning bureaucrats and developers that investment in greenspace is investment in public health no less important than the spending on “public illness” (much of which is in our own hands to prevent).