Using the natural environment to enhance one’s health and wellbeing is not a new idea. Readers often write to us at Nature’s Home and share the many ways in which they benefit from the ‘natural health service’ - whether it’s helped them recover from serious illness or simply de-stress from a tough day… and at all sorts of levels from idly watching bumblebees to throwing themselves into a rewarding volunteer project.
I feel that free access and connection to nature has direct physical and mental benefits for most life forms. Our own species has innately understood that nature lifts the soul and strengthens the limbs since long before Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud, or young Colin Craven was miraculously cured by the Secret Garden.
What’s changing now is that science has been able to measure those benefits.
There are quite a few scholarly articles online and echoed in the press, but I’ve also noticed it anecdotally within my own family and indeed myself. My boy, for example, struggles emotionally with being cooped up in the winter months. A family outing through the woods or local river meadows soon restores his good mood (and mine)… and in summer he can be found contentedly lying on his front in the garden, examining the daily lives and rivalries of our many ant colonies.
Counting Roman snail shells in the woods proves a calming and focusing experience for an energetic youngster.
Intrigued, I felt it was time to explore this in the magazine, so we asked Simon Barnes to lend his thoughts to the subject in his column. If you’ve received your Summer issue lately, turn to page 53 for his beautifully phrased essay that had me applauding the first time I read it.
In the whirling 21st century world of digital immersion, information overload, processed packaged food and relentless urban development, the ready access to nature that our forebears took for granted is dwindling - and with it, our collective sense of wellbeing.
So could the government, and our own communities, do more to ensure everyone benefits from nature?
It’s not as easy as it once was - our children can no longer play out alone, our workplaces may not afford a single glimpse of anything natural. The feeling is that as a society we need to make a bit of an effort. Some GPs now prescribe a country ramble instead of routine antidepressants. Schools will ensure that children have outdoor time, with exposure to plant life as well as playgrounds.
This is the sort of scenery to lift the spirits – and has also been shown to improve focus, performance, recovery from illness and more. (Photo: Eleanor Bentall, rspb-images.com)
A Nature and Wellbeing Act, a green paper from the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB, argues that saving nature is not just vital for the birds and wildlife that deserve a place in our world. It’s important for ourselves and our society.
The paper campaigns for an Act that would holistically build nature into our communities, education, economy and law, in order to improve public health and wellbeing, society and the economy over the next 10 years. You can join the campaign here.
Meanwhile, I will continue to look for opportunities to get myself and my kids out into nature as often as possible - now thankfully even easier as the weather improves. We’re also looking forward to a summer of camping - where they literally can ‘play out’ safely amid the glories of nature.
We also make sure our RSPB junior magazines encourage our younger members to engage with - and help - nature in all sorts of ways, from creating a compostarium to collecting plastic from beaches to turn into artwork. Such activities directly help wildlife, but just as importantly they help children - with benefits including increased focus, empathy, mood and performance. Nature makes us better versions of ourselves.
I know I’m preaching to the converted here, and am proud of our readers for already expressing that emotional connection with nature. Perhaps some people don’t recognise this, or don’t value it - but I’m sure they still benefit at some level from the sight of blossom on the trees or birdsong in the morning.
So let’s prepare for a season of walking, gardening, fishing, wild swimming, cycling, yoga, playing golf, camping & caravanning, pub gardens or simply sitting quietly in a bird hide - and take note of how it makes us feel… then spread the word and get people thinking about how nature affects them. Improved health, performance and happiness can be found right there, under the open sky!
We’d love to know if Simon’s column (Nature's Home, Summer 2017, p53) resonates with you, or if you have experienced improvements to your health or wellbeing as a direct result of connecting with nature. Contact us at the magazine, or log in to leave a comment below.
In my blog post last week I promised you all mountains, forests and coastline. Well, I’ve got all that and more this week, as I’m going to be unearthing some older photos from my first time doing conservation work in Canada, too.
Forests, snow, mountains... Everything feels so big in the American Northwest. (Photo: Jack Plumb)
So I left you all in San Francisco. I’m sure you’re all quite happy to stay in the Bay area, but we’re moving on now. Don’t worry, Portland Oregon is equally great, and I think it’s jumped to my top spot for “most stunning coastline”. April is whale-watching season, and there were grey whales galore steaming along the coast apparently…
Grey whales have the longest known migration of any mammal - all the way from feeding grounds north of the Bering Strait to the west coast of Mexico and back again (over 10,000 miles). (Photo: Ars Electronica, Flickr creative commons)
It was my number 1 must do for the holiday, so we booked on a tour. Sadly, the sea was too rough, so we couldn’t head out. Devastatingly disappointed, I was determined to see the sea anyway so we got in the car and headed west. This shot speaks for itself in my opinion – it was pretty spectacular, even without the whales.
The Oregon coast, close to Cape Meares. (Photo: Jack Plumb)
You can’t really go to California or Oregon without spending some time in a forest. They’re epic. Tilamook National Forest was just that. The huge expanse of giant trees as far as you can see are pretty impressive, and walking amongst the towering Douglas firs gives a strong frontier feeling. Having been devastated by fire in the 30s in what become known as the 'Tilamook burn', the biggest reforestation effort of its kind restored the area and secured its designation as a State Forest.
That's a pretty serious trunk! (Photo: Jack Plumb)
Portland came and went far too quickly, and I’ll definitely be going back to Oregon at some point having just scratched the surface. Carrying on the theme of forests and mountains was the next destination: Canada. O Canada, you never dissapoint.
Trail rations, check. Waterproofs, check. Hound, check. Now to find those hot springs... (Photos: Jack Plumb)
Last time I was in Canada I was volunteering for the Nature Conservancy at Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory. It was the beginning of my career in conservation, and spurred me on to come back to England and volunteer with the RSPB in 2013/14 at Dungeness. Those two experiences eventually got me my job as Youth Editor.
Lots of fish bones and prints, but no grizzly bears unfortunately... or fortunately, depending on how you look at it. (Photo: Jack Plumb)
Any guesses for what species this is? I can still hear this bird's call ringing in my ears... (Photo: Jack Plumb)
I didn't take this photo as I'm actually holding this sharp-shinned hawk! I still have the scars from my attempt at removing it from the mist net. This hawk and the red-shafted flicker above were chasing each other around most days! (Photo: Jack Plumb)
This time around I was just on holiday, which is no less thrilling when on one day you’re skiing and the next you're hiking to some natural hot springs. Coincidently, the first bird I saw as I stepped off the bus was a Steller’s jay, the very same bird I saw on my last day back in 2013. The black and blue contrast coupled with the robust crest of this corvid surely contributed to it being designated as Canada’s national bird. Good choice, Canada.
Common as anything, but what a stunner! (Photo: Jacob McGinnis, Flickr creative commons)
That’s it! I won’t subject you to any more holiday blogging… well, until my next holiday.
The sun is shining, the shorts are on and the garden is in full bloom. It’s time for looking after the bees and the butterflies, the bugs and the beetles. You’ve done your bit to help your birds through winter by supplying them with nutritious, tasty treats and ticked off Big Garden Birdwatch, so it’s time to retire your feeders to the shed and tie up those seed sacks. Bird feeding - job done until the frosts come in late autumn, right?
Not exactly... You might be surprised to learn that it’s still important to feed your garden birds through spring, so here are the top five reasons why your birds will be thanking you for full feeders now spring is here.
1.Dressing to impressIf you’re a male bird out to impress, glossy, well-oiled and well-groomed feathers, gleaming bright “bare parts” (that’s legs, feet, eyes and beaks), a beautiful song and elaborate display will stand you in good stead when it comes to finding a mate. You also need to find a territory and then defend it against all comers, so you need to be fighting fit and have plenty of energy. With all that pressure to look and feel good, plenty of high-quality food to get into, and stay in, top condition, is a must.
It's not easy looking this good! Feeding birds, such as greenfinches, through spring means that they'll be in tip top condition for impressing a mate (Ben Hall rspb-images.com)
2.Building the ideal home
It’s not just about the boys though. Female birds also need to get into the best of health to help them lay fertile eggs - and plenty of them. The bigger the clutch, the greater chance of raising young to adulthood. And before all that, there is the not small task of nest building, which both birds of a pair may take part in, depending on the species. The female often has the final say when it comes to location and in the case of the wren, the male does all the building for several nests and is no doubt greatly relieved when a suitable home is finally given the thumbs up!
Making a nest requires a lot of effort and uses up energy, so keep your birdtable and feeders filled through spring (Andy Hay rspb-images.com)
3.Bringing up baby
Resident birds soon have their first brood hatched out once April arrives. Robins and blackbirds are among the first young of the year to appear and while the parents are so busy tending to their fast-growing young, it’s all too easy for them to forget about themselves. Healthy, well-fed parents means a greater chance of more chicks surviving because they have the energy to work round the clock on the young's needs.
Healthy, well fed parents, like this song thrush, means that they can concentrate their efforts on finding food for their young (Mike Richards rspb-images.com)
4.The UK weather!
Let’s face it, the UK summer is unpredictable enough and in spring, anything can happen. Overnight frosts, gales, cold winds, even sleet and snow are all still possible through April and you certainly can’t rely on double figure temperatures. All of this means that natural food in the form of insects can still be hard to find. The ground can be relatively hard too before it warms up or if it is especially dry, so earthworms and other mini-beasts are harder to find too. Periods of really wet weather can be really problematic though, with lower temperatures, and make finding flying insects very difficult.
5.The cupboard is bare
Remember those heady days of last autumn when the hedgerows were full of rosehips, hawthorn and blackthorn berries; the woods were full of beech and hazel nuts and the fields full of seeds spilling out onto the ground? By spring, this natural bounty is pretty much gone and the cupboard, in many cases, is now bare. A good seed mix in your garden will go a long way in filling that gap between seeds and berries being easily available and summer’s abundance of insects. Remember good hygiene though and have a look at the what to feed advice on the RSPB website.
You can help to make sure your garden is full of baby birds by keeping the adults well fed this spring (Ray Kennedy rspb-images.com)
There is lots more advice on feeding your garden birds at this time of year on the RSPB website.
Get a half price bag of RSPB Premium sunflower hearts!To give you, and your garden birds, a helping hand this spring we’re offering a half price 5.5kg bag of Premium sunflower hearts when you spend £35 from the RSPB shop.