I’m on a train to London writing this blog post, heading to the city to discuss our connection with nature, because nature matters. Coincidentally, while driving to the station Lucy McRobert from The Wildlife Trusts was on BBC Radio 4 Today programme talking about the new #EveryChildWild campaign, because nature matters.
Few people on the train are gazing out of the windows, for me that is one of the pleasures of a train journey. There’s a background of papers rustling, keyboards being tapped and a bit of screen time. The landscape leaving a foggy Derby station is modest, hardly a compelling view, but there’s nature to be found in the form of scrubby hedgerows and trees, their remaining leaves hanging forlornly.
This reflection on our nature, and the nature ‘out there’, is part of our connection to it. Those with a trait for open curiosity tend to have a more embedded place in nature – a greater connection to it. This brings me onto the topic of this post, what leads to a connection with nature, and why does nature connection matter?
I use this blog to share nature connection research in a more straightforward manner than academic writing allows, but also to test and develop ideas. And one idea I’ve been developing over the past few days is a diagram to show what leads to a connection with nature, and why nature connection matters.
It’s work in progress, not comprehensive and mashes some of my research with findings from elsewhere. It also needs a graphic designer’s touch! In fact, while writing this I’m seeing aspects I don’t like (such as nature connection being within a box, rather than the glue that holds the other things together), but that development is the point of writing the blog.
So, as I pass through an equally foggy Loughborough, on to the diagram. You’ll see a connection to nature is at the heart of things, occupying a shared place with nature represented by a head shaped oak. A connection with nature leads people to seek nature out, hence the arrow to the fully formed oak representing nature. And that exposure to the wider nature about us, leads to good health – there’s plenty of evidence for that.
Emerging research suggests that a connection to nature is also related to well-being (to a similar level as education and income), mediating the link between wellbeing and better health. A connection with nature makes us happy and gets us out into nature – two good things for our health.
So we can work to get people out into nature, but my interest is building our connection to it – that feeling of being part of nature. And contact, getting out into nature, is associated with greater nature connection. But to build a deeper connection also involves an emotional relationship (e.g. wonder and awe) with the natural world, one where nature has meaning so that we develop compassion and respect for nature. You’ll see pro-nature behaviours are another outcome of nature connection.
So how do we foster this stronger relationship with nature and a deeper connection? There’s little research on this just now, but it’s central to my work. The picture just now is that appreciating nature’s beauty and creative arts with a nature theme are key.
Our thirst for knowledge is represented on the diagram by the disembodied brain and a microscope. Currently, and as I say there’s a need for more research, knowledge alone doesn’t appear as a route to nature connection. A microscopic attention to nature and positivist approach alone would seem an unlikely route to an emotional relationship and connection to nature. But if that thirst for knowledge is driven by wonder then it could well have a role to play. For now, it’s perhaps best to place facts and education firmly within a wider context of awe, wonder, contact, meaning and respect.
The diagram also shows personality traits associated with a connection to nature, both as barriers and facilitators. The barriers are neuroticism and rumination; anxiety and worry, and a focus on those thoughts (the good news is nature and a connection to it can reduce anxiety). The positive traits are broadly related to curiosity about our place in the world, openness, self-reflection and mindful attention – gazing out of windows while on the train.