Nature is in decline and there is a need to promote a new relationship with the natural world. A closer relationship based on an emotional attachment where nature has meaning in our lives. Where we sense and appreciate nature’s everyday beauty. Where we develop a compassion for nature.
In Spring last year I was in a nature-based visitor center and was struck by the shelves full of guides to identifying nature. This promotes a certain type of relationship with the natural world. Yet, we know such knowledge of nature isn’t a pathway to connection and is a poor predictor of the pro-nature behaviours we desperately need. However knowledge based relationships with nature are the dominant relationships we promote. When designing a nature engagement experience (especially for children), many will ask about the learning outcomes. Why not learn to develop a closer bond with nature?
Nature connectedness describes an emotional relationship with nature, where we understand that we are part of nature – doing harm to nature is ultimately harming ourselves. Unsurprising then that activities in nature that promote emotions help develop a connection with nature. So, stood looking at the bookshelves I imagined a very different guide, an alternative book to choose. One that challenges our thinking – that flips engagement with nature on its head. Rather than asking what that bird is, ask how it makes you feel.
So, here is that idea brought to life, a thought experiment that might actually work in practice. It could be carefully crafted, a literary experience, compiled from the emotions expressed by nature writers – or from more contemporary submissions. In my example, I’ve used the pathways to nature connection as headers and played with headings typically found in bird guides.
Taking the idea a little further, and building on the simple pleasure of a tick list, I’ve mocked-up an ‘Emotions in Nature Logbook’. The brain feels before it thinks, so this idea provides a prompt to retreat from knowing and identifying nature to spend time simply finding joy and calm within it.
Maintaining the feeling of wonder in nature is important. One of my favourite quotes is:
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
What we have as children, we lose in adulthood. Children naturally find wonder in nature, yet we know a connection to nature drops rapidly during teenage years – a time of change, new social pressures and learning outcomes. So let’s try and retain and foster that wonder, through adolescence and into adulthood – because nature matters.