Benefits of contact with nature for everyone?
Evidence from research in the UK and USA in the last 40 years shows that contact with nature brings substantial mental and physical health benefits. Green exercise and other nature-related initiatives address concerns about the adverse health effects of modern diets and sedentary lifestyles, and there is growing evidence that stress and mental ill-health - serious health problems in Western urban society - could be helped by contact with nature.
Given these benefits it is apparent that many people who are currently excluded from contact with nature would stand to benefit greatly. Research by Sensory Trust, published in Making Connections, showed that barriers that prevent contact with nature impact particularly on disabled and older people, and are shared by many others including young people and carers.
There are wider social issues. Fewer children go outside to play; more people see the natural environment as dirty and unattractive. Fewer people cook with fresh ingredients. Fewer people understand the production and supply chains for food, or where resources come from, and as a consequence lack the ability to engage with positive choices for more sustainable lifestyles.
The disengagement of disabled and older people from the natural world represents the disengagement of a significant proportion of society: one in five people. Finding ways to remove the barriers to access and involvement has potential to bring forward a large and diverse range of people as users and supporters of the natural world, of sustainable food production and lifestyles.
Natural England’s Diversity Review and Sensory Trust’s Making Connections research show that a combination of physical, intellectual and social barriers prevents many disabled and older people from experiencing and connecting with the natural world, but also that many would like to have more access to the environment.
Many of these barriers can be removed by engaging in activities that work with different levels of communicative ability. Adapted multisensory activities and techniques that allow meaningful participation in the natural world engage not only children, but also disabled people and older people, many for the first time. A multisensory experiential approach to learning helps transfer new skills and knowledge and strengthen emotional connections with the natural world. This leads to a positive effect on motivation and the desire to maintain these connections.
Essex University identified three levels of engagement with nature: passive (sitting out), being active in nature (for example,walking or cycling), and being actively engaged with nature. The latter has the greatest potential to forge lasting connections between people and nature and will be the focus for this project.
In other projects, Sensory Trust has seen the benefits of engaging people through ordinary subjects that relate to their day-to-day lives. Food plays a pivotal role in most people’s day-to-day lives. Food production, preparation and consumption can provide the key to engaging otherwise hard to reach groups with the natural world.
Let Nature Feed Your Senses - sensory rich visits to farms and environmental sites
Getting out more - feedback from the first visits
Discovery Bags - bags designed to make visits engaging and sensory-rich for all groups.
Sensory learning and our environment - article about how we learn through all our senses and implications for connecting with our environment
Children and the natural world - article arguing that children are not over-stimulated by computer games and television as is often claimed in the media.
Go Outside and Play - article outlining the benefits of play and spending time outdoors