For the last few months I’ve been neglecting my subscriptions to BBC Wildlife and National Geographic. They’ve been mounting on the far right of my desk, some still in their plastic wraps, forming a mini-Andes of magazines.
Today was the day I decided to deal with the backlog head on, meaning I could clear my workspace whilst empowering my brain with as much super wildlife knowledge as possible… I read two articles from the January issue of Nat Geo and then went for a walk.
On paper (or blog?) this seems like I flaked pretty quickly. In my defence, Nat Geo made me do it! Or more specifically, Florence Williams did. She wrote an article titled “The Power of Parks/A Yearlong Exploration” investigating the relationship between wellbeing and nature.
People are increasingly becoming hermit crabs. We’re spending more time inside our shells stressing ourselves out by directing all our attention at work and never stepping outside of our tiny worlds – unless we’re moving to a larger shell. And how are we dealing with this stress: medical prescriptions? Maybe. What are we not doing? Going outside.
Nature, as people are quickly finding out, has incredible healing properties. This doesn’t seem like anything new, many of our medicines derive from plants or animals, and after all we did evolved out there, so of course being outside would be good for us. But to what extent, we didn’t really know.
The research is astounding. Take a look some summaries I cherry picked:
- Live near parks in Scotland? Your neighbourhood will experience less death and disease, EVEN if you don’t use them.
- In the Netherlands people living half a mile away from green space experience a lower incidence of 15 illnesses/diseases (including depression, diabetes and asthma).
- When you see nature from your window in hospital you recover faster, in schools you perform better and in volatile neighbourhoods you are less violent.
- Just a 15-minute walk in a forest can reduce the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in your blood, drop your blood pressure and decrease your heart rate.
- You can receive some of these benefits by staying inside watching videos or looking at pictures of nature too.
- People who went backpacking in the wilderness for three days perform 50% better in cognitive tasks.
So after reading all of that I had to get outside.
At 2PM I went for a walk around my local patch, just a ten-minute stroll from the house. Despite the constant hum and blasts of engines from the adjacent M1, where I walk is actually beautiful all year round. At the moment it’s boggy and flooded in parts due to the River Colne breaking its banks; creating a playground for birds. The usual culprits were abundant: Canada geese, mallards, coots and moorhens.
I was quickly reminded of the wonderment of nature almost immediately after breaching the boundary between suburbia and nature (a tunnel beneath the M1) when I was surrounded by songbirds. To my delight my arrival was noted by a great tit, and like a bugler announcing a King, I was welcomed to his haven with an unmistakable song.
Shortly afterwards I was inspected by the bouncer; not one that intimidating I have to say as it turned out to be tiny. I was visually patted-down by a gold crest. A gold crest! The UK’s smallest bird! I had never seen one before and it was such a joy to watch as it hopped around checking if I was a threat.
After forty-five minutes of peering through binoculars, being beaten by the wind and wading through new tributaries, I decided to start my journey home. Putting my binoculars in my pocket and strolling head-down towards a gate I heard an unfamiliar song. Looking up, about ten metres in front of me, was a blue-grey bird with black stripes across its eyes like a bandit’s mask. I knew it wasn’t a blue tit due to its song and size (smaller than a blackbird). When reaching into my pocket for my binoculars the bird launched off its perch and landed a metre directly above my head. The new vantage point displayed the bird’s long slender beak: a nuthatch. Also a first for me!
I watched as it fluffed its feathers and peered right back down at me for as long as it allowed. After 30 seconds it left me with nothing but a grin on my face and a fantastic memory. If that isn’t an advert for the relationship between nature and wellbeing then I don’t know what is. Cheers Florence.