A couple of recent research papers have caught my eye. The first paper looks at outdoor activities, emotions and two types of passion for nature – important as one is associated with a greater connection with nature, the second relates to decreased connection. Clearly, as we look to improve nature connection, knowing the best forms of relationship is key. The second paper is about the rapid increase in nature connection research over recent years.
The Nature Connections 2018 conference at the University of Derby last month was the third in a series which grows as the relevance of the natural environment to everyday lives becomes increasingly accepted owing to the links to our environmental attitudes, behaviours and wellbeing. We started by reminding ourselves of the fundamentals, that nature connection is an established and measurable psychological construct and that it can be improved through affective and sensory activities (rather than cognitive and knowledge based activities). Of course, there is a need to get research evidence across, so after a burst of knowledge based talks, Mark Cocker ably returned us to the affective and sensory delights of the natural world.
There’s a river close to home I visited most weeks for five years. It’s the place I found my own reconnection to nature. After 9 months doing other things I returned recently. Hearing the voice of the shallows and feeling the freedom of the flatlands beyond was surprisingly powerful. It was a renewed contact with nature – full of meaning, beauty, compassion for the fallen ash and notable emotion. The river was calming. The sand martins brought joy. It reaffirmed to me that our connection with nature, and many of the benefits of nature are affective – and that there are two types of positive affect that help us function well. Then, when a sheep burst unexpectedly through the herbage of summer, I experienced a third type of emotion!
A place of joy, calm and connection
In ‘The Unfrozen Moment – Delivering A Green Brexit,’ Secretary of State Michael Gove sets out his vision on the future of our natural environment. In this speech, and at the Green Alliance event a week earlier, I was struck by the recurring themes of beauty, emotion, meaning and compassion. Four aspects of our relationship with the natural world that our recent research has linked to improving our connection with nature – see my blog and the open access paper for more detail. It is great to hear the Secretary of State speaking from the heart. However, the speech, see excerpt below, infers a distinction between such themes and science. Having evidence based policy makes sense. This blog points out that there is science of beauty, emotion, meaning and compassion and this should also form part of the evidence base that informs environmental policy.
“I grew up with an emotional attachment to natural beauty which inevitably influences my feelings towards questions on everything from architecture to ivory. But while natural beauty moves us deep in our souls, environmental policy also needs to be rooted, always and everywhere, in science.” Continue reading
Just under a year ago I wrote about a new project we’re involved with, namely IWUN: Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature. Funded by a £1.3 million from the Natural Environment Research Council – part of the human health and wellbeing goal of the Valuing Nature programme. Although we know that spending time with nature is good for people, the project broadly investigates the ‘dose’ and which particular qualities and features of green space boost people’s health and personal enjoyment.
There’s been a flurry of attention on forest bathing recently. Originating in Japan, it is the practice of taking a trip into the forest for well-being benefits. Last year we completed a meta-analysis of 11 Japanese research studies into forest bathing, it was published open access in Evolutionary Psychological Science. The paper considered the results in the context of a ‘3 Circles’ model of emotional regulation that helps reveal why immersing oneself in the woods is good for health. Continue reading
Owing to the benefits to both human and nature’s well-being, and wide spread disconnection, a connection with nature is something many people and organisations are keen to increase. So there is a need to know how best to do this. We’ve already developed specific interventions, such as 3 good things in nature, but our wider framework of effective routes to nature connection has just been published in Plos One. I’m excited about this work is it provides guidance for those seeking to re-connect people with nature, indeed it has been central to much of our recent nature connections work, for example, guiding the type of activities promoted as part of The Wildlife Trusts highly successful 30 Days Wild campaign. Continue reading