We now know that spending time in nature is good for us! There has recently been an increasing body of compelling research and evidence to back up what many of us are intrinsically aware of. Being surrounded by nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, but can improve physical well-being, lowering blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones.
For those of us that love the outdoors and wildlife this is great news, an excuse to indulge in our hobby and weave it into our daily lives wherever possible. It’s good for us so, it’s our duty to go for that long walk in the woods or nip out for a sea swim when really we should be working, doing housework or one of the many other tasks of daily life.
So what do we do when we cannot immerse ourselves in our favourite wild places? Here are some thoughts on how you might like to connect to nature from home, your local patch or garden at a time when we all need it most.
1. Barefoot walking
This is something I like to do when out on a walk - it works better in some habitats than others! You can just as easily do it in your garden and the chances are you already do it unconsciously when you nip to take the bins out or hang up the washing. However, the idea here is to walk barefoot more mindfully. It can help you connect to the earth and nature, as well as stimulating the feet, mind and senses too! Even if you only have a very small garden or yard, it is likely you have a few surfaces your feet can explore. I have a small to medium sized garden and have paving slabs, grass, wooden boards, bricks, flowerbed and even some AstroTurf! (Believe me this was not our purchase, it was left over from the previous owners, goodness knows why it is still there!)
2. Noticing a daily/weekly change
It can be hugely rewarding to notice the small changes in nature on a daily basis - it is not difficult at the moment since its spring and everywhere we look things seem to be changing, but can you actively take note of those changes? If you are growing flowers or vegetables then watching for new seedlings or daily growth can be almost an obsession! For me, it forms a good part of my morning as I check on my ‘babies’, but even if you don’t have access to this kind of growth you will undoubtedly be able to record changes in nature from any window you look out of at this time of year. A pleasing way to acknowledge time passing when every day seems to blur into the next.
3. Cloud watching
This is a really easy way to connect with the natural world around us through observation and appreciation. Give yourself the space to relax and drift off letting your mind wander, or watch with a curious and creative mind finding shapes in the clouds and imagining new creatures. Just an excuse for a nice sit down really, but enjoyable all the same!
4. Bird watching
You might think that you need a telescope and a visit to a nature reserve to be a birdwatcher, but believe me, you’d be wrong! You can look out for, appreciate and be entertained by birds anywhere.
It was quite a revelation to me when I became interested in birds and then discovered you can literally enjoy this pastime absolutely anywhere. If reptiles or mammals are your thing and you’re stuck at home in a city centre flat you’re likely to be disappointed, as not many of them are going to be spotted from your window. How about starting a window or garden bird list? It is likely you could get into double figures before long and then you just need to identify the ones you don’t know. Did you know - Chris Packham has started the Self-Isolating Bird Club that has over 17.5k followers on twitter where you can share your sightings among other nature lovers? Whether you are scouring the skies for passing raptors or appreciating the patterns on a starling’s wing this activity can bring huge enjoyment and certainly a connection with and appreciation for wildlife. If you’re still not convinced about bird watching anywhere...then check out the incredible story Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann, four WW11 Prisoners of War set up a secret bird watching society from Warburg POW camp, they would later become giant figures in British Wildlife Conservation.
5. Look closely
All too often, we gaze at our regular views without really looking. When is the last time you looked at the hairs and veins on a leaf? Have you ever watched an ant go about its business for five minutes? We gain new appreciation and joy from everyday natural objects simply by taking the time to study them more closely. Perhaps you have a magnifying glass, a good phone camera or even a macro camera lens to help you get close up. If you are really lucky and have a microscope lying around, then you’ll have endless fun looking at or beneath the surface of various objects. but you can easily get enjoyment from this as a five minute activity with just your eyes, get into the practice of doing it regularly and you’ll find yourself appreciating the small things all the more which can only be a good thing.
6. Virtual connection to nature
If all else fails and outside time isn’t an option for you, don’t despair. There is evidence to suggest that connecting with nature via a screen is beneficial to health and well-being; certainly not as good as the real thing but worth spending time focusing on if you are indoors and missing the wild. How about finding a way to spend time working with wildlife as a subject for a while each day? This could be organising your wildlife photography collection, learning to paint watercolour from nature books, cutting up magazines and making art or greetings cards or simply taking the time to watch Planet Earth (or your favourite wildlife documentary) again. There is a wealth of amazing things to be found on the internet (unsurprisingly) you could while away hours watching live webcams from around the world or taking virtual tours, so take time to find out some information that can help you feel connected. Many nature reserves and organisations are doing live events or posting extra information at the moment. Right now, I am enjoying watching the Osprey webcam in Poole harbour, and checking on the live weather and views at Stonehenge but I am sure that virtually you could go forest bathing in Japan, or listen to birdsong in the Amazon.
Outreach Officer - Dorset's Heathland Heart.