The are many potential routes and stepping stones to a new relationship with nature. I find the creative application of nature connectedness research findings really exciting and, for me, it’s an essential part of the research process – work to understand a problem and provide solutions. There are many good examples where our research has been applied, but also unrealised ideas. This blog simply shares some of my ideas, some very recent, some may be impractical and others perhaps plain daft! But sharing and discussing ideas is often the catalyst for others, so here goes…
A key finding from our research is that simply noticing nature is an essential step to improving nature connectedness and thereby mental well-being and pro-nature behaviours. Yet most people don’t tend to notice nature. Then we’ve also found that the typical amount of time people spend in urban green spaces is just 4 minutes 36 seconds. There’s a need for places and spaces that prompt people to pause, notice and linger. There are several art installations that prompt people to sit and notice, such as “Skyspace” by James Turrell. The plan view of the ‘harbour’ below is simply two curved walls that allow the option of a roof or cover for those enjoyable rainy days. Positioned within an area with some trees and habitats, the overlapping curves create a simple entrance to the space. A space that invites people to sit and be harboured by the curves. To pause, away from those who continue to wander. Permission is given to notice nature.
The second version has a single entrance, like a tunnel towards a nest. To leave the wider world to a calmer place. Although simple, such spaces can be special. Too often there are no places to pause, or a bench is sited on the footpath itself, legs shuffle as others pass by. Create a space, a focal point and people will come. Such spaces also create great areas for green social prescribing.
Sometimes green spaces are limited. Simply passed through on route to some place else. How can the smallest green space provide the longest walk and more moments with nature? Through a labyrinth. Mazes require thought, can bring frustration, labyrinths are simply followed – all the better if created with wildlife in mind.
And of course the harbour and labyrinth can be combined. Sadly, how practical such spaces would be in public and urban areas is another matter. Just as they invite people to pause and linger to enjoy nature, they will invite people to linger and enjoy other things – but good design could perhaps mitigate such concerns.
I love the nature writing of Richard Jefferies (1848 – 1887), it is clear from his wonderful accounts of time lingering by fields and hedgerows just how much wildlife there was 150 years ago.
In Nature Near London Jefferies writes of numerous wildflowers and birds:
A certain road leading outwards from a suburb, enters at once among fields. It soon passes a thick hedge dividing a meadow from a cornfield, in which hedge is a spot where some bluebells may be found in spring … This meadow in June, for instance, when the buttercups are high, is one broad expanse of burnished gold. The most careless passer-by can hardly fail to cast a glance over acres of rich yellow. The furze, again, especially after a shower has refreshed its tint, must be seen by all. Where broom grows thickly, lifting its colour well into view, or where the bird’s-foot lotus in full summer overruns the thin grass of some upland pasture, the eye cannot choose but acknowledge it….The thick hedge mentioned is a favourite resort of blackbirds, and on a warm May morning, after a shower—they are extremely fond of a shower—half-a-dozen may be heard at once whistling in the elms… A pair of turtle-doves built in the same hedge one spring, and while resting on the gate by the roadside their “coo-coo” mingled with the song of the nightingale and thrush, the blackbird’s whistle, the chiff-chaff’s “chip-chip,” the willow-wren’s pleading voice, and the rustle of green corn as the wind came rushing (as it always does to a gateway).
And of numerous insects in Field and Hedgerow:
This forest land is marked by the myriads of insects that roam about it in the days of sunshine. Of all the million million heathbells—multiply them again by a million million more—that purple the acres of rolling hills, mile upon mile, there is not one that is not daily visited by these flying creatures. Countless and incalculable hosts of the yellow-barred hover-flies come to them; the heath and common, the moor and forest, the hedgerow and copse, are full of insects. They rise under foot, they rise from the spray brushed by your arm as you pass, they settle down in front of you—a rain of insects, a coloured shower. Legion is a little word for the butterflies; the dry pastures among the woods are brown with meadow-brown; blues and coppers float in endless succession
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to witness such scenes? A journey from the present, back 100 then 1000 years to see how a sterile landscape was once alive. An antidote to shifting baseline syndrome where each generation thinks the current state of nature is the norm. Of course this can be done with Augmented Reality headsets, but what about an AR window that overlays the past upon the present. A window on a popular route, where many pass to enjoy the landscape of today – but can witness the landscape nature intended. Of course, even if technically possible, a rewilded landscape would be a better solution!
And now we wander into the more unusual corners of my mind, although this idea springs from a corner I occupy most evenings. I’m big fan of funk music and avid listener to funky.radio (24/7 funk with no adverts!). Funk music is always ‘on the one’ and nature connection is about being at ‘one with nature’, about ‘one health’ on ‘one planet’. It’s the story of the one. And funk music, especially Parliament Funkadelic has many fun stories and characters. From the Clones of Dr. Funkenstein to an alien UFO that visits Earth to steal the funk to save their dying world from its funklessness.
I expect engaging with nature has a bit of a tired and predictable image to many, from macs, wellies and binoculars to soft focus visions sat cross legged in a meadow. But a vibrant natural world is exciting, alive and full of characters and the story of the need for nature can be told in different ways to appeal to different audiences. So, inspired by Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair, an underwater concept album set in Atlantis, I created some characters to describe a funk themed walk on the walking and nature connection app, Go Jauntly. As you’re reading this and not walking, I’ve transferred the text of the walk onto the slides below.
In a vaguely similar vein of alternative framing, several years ago I imagined a nature themed celebrity lifestyle magazine.
So, there we go, not a full ‘brain dump’ of ideas – i’ve omitted several, including my nature spoof aftershave ad and my emotion balancing contraption – a machine that illustrates how nature helps manage our moods. Hopefully, the ideas above will inspire some to create other ideas that become real and help bring people a little closer to nature.