The publication of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan includes policies related to connecting people with nature for wellbeing, urban nature and nature’s beauty – all themes of our nature connections research at the University of Derby. In the foreword Michael Gove notes that the environment is another word for nature, the planet that sustains us, that inspires wonder and places of beauty. The Secretary of State has returned to these themes of emotion and beauty and regularly (last week and in July) and research shows that there are links between them and the often hidden benefits of nature recognised in the plan. This blog considers the policies related to connecting people with nature, urban nature and nature’s beauty.
Connecting people with nature to improve health and wellbeing is one of six key policy areas. The wide-ranging benefits of nature are stated – reducing stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Boosting immune systems, physical activity and pro-social behaviours. The first part of the policy aims to increase time spent in and engagement with nature. Exposure to nature is good for us, but a connection with nature brings it’s own benefits and our research shows the ways to engage with nature to develop this connectedness – and they include those themes of emotion and beauty in nature. You can read more on our pathways to nature connection here – handy as the policy sets out to connect people systematically with nature. These informed our work with The Wildlife Trusts on their 30 Days Wild campaign – our evaluation work over 3 years has shown how tens of thousand of people taking part have become more connected to nature, happier and healthier.
To promote health and wellbeing the 25 year plan includes the launch of a ‘Natural Environment for Health and Wellbeing’ programme that will promote the natural environment as a pathway to wellbeing. The programme will develop tools to reach as many people as possible, with green and social prescriptions. Our work package within the Improving Nature through Urban Wellbeing (IWUN) project includes a smartphone app that will inform approaches to green prescriptions.
The second part of the connecting people with nature policy is focussed on encouraging children to be close to nature, particularly where a child has no access to a garden. The Nature Friendly Schools Programme will help create school grounds that support learning about the natural world and also keep children happy and healthy. Research evidence suggests that knowledge of nature isn’t a pathway to nature connection, so it is important that around the learning there is time to simply sense and make contact with nature, to enjoy its beauty, find meanings and emotions in nature – the themes of nature connection Michael Gove returns to in his speeches, but don’t appear in the policy outlined so far.
The third part of the connecting people with nature policy is about greening towns and cities. The focus here is on increasing and improving green infrastructure. This will include updating standards for green infrastructure and helping local authorities evaluate green spaces against these standards. Through identifying the types of green space that best promote wellbeing, the results of the on-going IWUN project will provide evidence that can inform such standards and our smartphone app Shmapped provides the technology.
Finally, a return to nature’s beauty and a second key policy area – enhancing the beauty of landscapes. It’s great that the inherent beauty of nature is central to the plan and linked to protecting and recovering nature from the losses over the past 50 years. There is a commitment to review Areas of Natural Beauty and the emerging science of the links between nature’s beauty, emotion and wellbeing can add to such reviews through understanding and making plain the links between beauty and the positive impact on the physiology of our bodies when it is experienced. The wellbeing benefits of nature are more significant for those people attuned and engaged with nature’s beauty.
This supports the need to go beyond activities that simply take people into nature, for any purpose, or just for learning. The purpose and activities matter if people are to be engaged with and connected to the natural environment. Now that the health and wellbeing benefits of nature are accepted by Government, there is a need to better understand the science of our connection with nature – after all there’s a disconnection at the root of the declining state of nature.