How to build a stronger connection with nature

Being able to identify different species of plants or animals, or growing your own vegetables does not necessarily make for a strong connection with nature, academics have found.

Instead people who want a closer relationship with the natural world should be looking for ways to engage their emotions.

INSETcountryside copy

Dr Ryan Lumber, psychology lecturer, of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) worked with lead researcher Professor Miles Richardson of Derby University. The new paper was published this month.

They identified five pathways and tested them by asking people to take part in activities while on a nature walk, such as having a conversation about what they were seeing, or writing down any meaning they took from their surroundings.  

The pathways were:

•    Contact – The act of engaging with nature through the senses for pleasure e.g. listening to birdsong, smelling wild flowers, watching the sunset.
•    Beauty – Engagement with the aesthetic qualities of nature, e.g. appreciating natural scenery or engaging with nature through the arts.
•    Meaning – Using nature or natural symbolism (e.g. language and metaphors) to represent an idea, thinking about the meaning of nature and signs of nature, e.g. the first swallow of summer.
•    Emotion – An emotional bond with, and love for nature e.g. talking about, and reflecting on your feelings about nature.
•    Compassion – Extending the self to include nature, leading to a moral and ethical concern for nature e.g. making ethical product choices, being concerned with animal welfare.

Dr Lumber, psychology lecturer, said: “Studies have linked nature to a range of benefits including better well-being, feeling mentally restored, and improved physical health through better immune functioning, with nature connection helping to facilitate the positive interactions needed to make  this happen.

“Often people associate nature with areas of countryside which while great, are not always easily accessible for everybody.

“Engaging with the nature surrounding us in cities and urban spaces can be an excellent way to reconnect with nature and receive the benefits of a connected relationship, with this connection best facilitated through the pathways identified in our research.

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“So visiting your local park, appreciating the beauty of the bird that visits your garden, taking time to help nature, finding meaning in the changes of the weather or seasons, or focusing on the good things in nature are just some of the ways in which you could reconnect with nature and receive physical and emotional benefits as a result.”

In a blog post about the latest research, Miles Richardson, director of core psychology programmes at Derby University said the brain responds faster to emotions than it does rational thought.   

He added: “Given the scope for practical application, this research conducted at the University of Derby has been central to 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. The five pathways to nature connection provide valuable guidance for those looking to re-connect people with nature.”

Posted on Monday 29th May 2017

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