A Guide to Nature

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.”

Pablo Picasso

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.



About Miles

Professor of Human Factors & Nature Connectedness - improving connection to (the rest of) nature to unite human & nature’s wellbeing.
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8 Responses to A Guide to Nature

  1. henrymcghie says:

    Hi Miles yes, I like all this very much- the learning outcomes for nature education could be more geared towards ‘what did i learn about myself and the things that matter to me, and my experiences’. Self knowledge in connection with our place in our surroundings. We’ll definitely use your ‘field guide’ in Manchester. All the best, Henry

  2. Pingback: A Guide to Nature | Nature Manchester

  3. Reblogged this on Séamus Sweeney and commented:
    I am reblogging this from Miles Richardson’s Finding Nature blog. Miles is an applied psychologist researching nature connection. One recurrent theme of this research is that knowledge-based activity which focuses on “successful achievement” of, for instance, identification of birds, is not a good predictor of nature connection.

    There is a place for knowledge – indeed, the attempt to identify, in my experience, is itself a form of pleasure and leads to a focused attention – but equally “not succeeding” (again in my experience) can lead to disappointment and a certain alienation from nature-based activity.

    Anyway, here is a post with an intriguing literary idea…

  4. Morwhenna Woolcock says:

    Hi Miles, What a wonderful post and stellar idea, both the nature connection to birds book and your emotions to nature log book.

    Much needed.


    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Andrew says:

    Having abandoned academic ornithology post-PhD disheartened by its disconnection from actual birds, I completely agree with this post.

  6. Susan Warren says:

    Hi Miles, this alternative bird guide and nature log book are just great! During my career I’ve encountered many teachers and parents who were nervous about taking children on explorations of the natural world specifically because they were concerned that they would be able to identify the plants and creatures that they encountered. Shifting the focus away from nature-based knowledge to nature-based experience is so helpful in getting past this barrier….and there are a plethora of field guides out there to go and look things up in afterwards!!
    Thank you

  7. Simon says:

    A new field of ‘Experiential Ornithology’ blossoms.

  8. Pingback: A Miles Richardson blog - UK NAEE

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