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Make time for nature – find your forest moment

Logo: Forestry England
Mallards Pike Gruffalo orienteering. Credit and ©: Unieed for Forestry England
Mallards Pike Gruffalo orienteering. Credit and ©: Unieed for Forestry England

To care for ourselves we must care for nature. World Environment Day, on 5 June, urges us all to make time for nature. Wellbeing Project Manager at Forestry England, Ellen Devine, reflects on our time in nature during lockdown and invites us all to find our ‘forest moment’ over the coming weeks and months.

(Re-)discovering nature during lockdown


Wild garlic. Credit: Rupert Barry, Forestry England. © Crown copyright
Wild garlic. Credit: Rupert Barry, Forestry England. © Crown copyright

The current restrictions mean that many of us have a bit more time on our hands – perhaps we’re not working, or at least not spending hours commuting to work, or perhaps we’re looking for ways to entertain the kids now that the afterschool activities have disappeared from the family calendar. Trying to stay at home, travelling less and with indoor recreation limited, exploring natural environments in our neighbourhood has become more relevant than ever. As someone who has always found solace in nature, I’ve relished the opportunity to walk, unrushed by calendar appointments, through the fields, ‘discovering’ footpaths I’ve previously rushed past. For others, nature has been a surprise comfort, a new friend in an otherwise lonely lockdown. And as human activity has slowed, nature has stepped into the spaces, taking over quiet streets and even ‘re-wilding’ our social media feeds as we take a moment to capture in a photo the beauty of a view, the joy of a flower coming into bloom, the excitement as we witness a dragonfly balanced on a lily pad. During these uncertain times, we have turned to nature for escape, from our homes and our minds, and as a place to exercise. Our time outside has felt precious; we’ve made time for nature, because we’ve needed it, and nature has been there for us.

Spending time in forests is crucial for both people and planet

Our instinctive move towards nature during times of stress is explained by a wealth of research into the physiological and psychological effects of nature. We know that being among trees helps to reduce stress, improves mood, and reduces the possibility of poor mental health. Studies have even shown that exercising in forests provides a distraction from fatigue, making physical activity feel easier and more enjoyable, keeping people active for longer, and increasing their satisfaction compared to working out indoors.

Recent research into ‘nature connectedness’ – a concept which describes our cognitive and emotional relationship with nature – shows that being connected to nature is not only good for our wellbeing, but also encourages pro-environmental behaviour. In short, spending time outdoors is a win-win for people and the planet.1

Painting at Cyril Hart Arboretum. Credit: Forestry England. © Crown copyright
Painting at Cyril Hart Arboretum. Credit: Forestry England. © Crown copyright

Find your forest moment

Over the coming months we anticipate that the restrictions on our activities will slowly lift and life will gradually return to something closer to pre-lockdown normality. There will be huge challenges – we will grieve for the people we have lost, adjust to a world that is forever slightly different, live with the knowledge that life can change in a moment. As we face these challenges, we must remember to make time for nature and support others to do the same – in doing so we will reap the benefits for ourselves and the planet.

A great way to continue to make time to connect with nature is through the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, or forest bathing. This simple method of being clam and quiet amongst the trees has been proven to help both adults and children de-stress, and the techniques can be used for a minute, an hour or longer. Intrigued? Just follow these tips for beginners to get started, or download the Forest Bathing for Children activity worksheet to discover fun ways to support children to connect with their senses and the natural world. And for those of us without access to a woodland or the outdoors, Forestry England has created a series of virtual forest bathing resources to bring the forest to you, your family, friends and the people you work with.

Canopy. Credit: Ben Thomas, Forestry England. © Crown copyright
Canopy. Credit: Ben Thomas, Forestry England. © Crown copyright

Restoration, resilience and rainbows

As we recover from the upheaval of COVID-19 and learn to adapt to the new world we find ourselves living in, we can look to nature for restoration and inspiration. The soft fascination of nature and its gentle sensory stimulation soothes us by placing just the right amount of effortless demand on our working memory to distract us from spiralling rumination and allow our minds to reflect and our bodies to recover.2 We learn from nature, that resilience is a part of life, that we can bounce back from the harshest of winters with fresh new shoots; and that dark skies and storms are followed by rainbows – a sure sign of brighter skies ahead.

Find out more about Forestry England

Forestry England manages and cares for the nation’s 1,500 woods and forests, welcoming 230 million visits per year. As England’s largest land manager, we shape landscapes and are enhancing forests for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and businesses to grow. Find out more at www.forestryengland.uk

Forests are places to seek adventure, make memories and find escape. Find out more about how Forestry England supports people to experience the wellbeing benefits of forests at www.forestryengland.uk/wellbeing

If you would like to work with Forestry England to help people connect with forests and improve their wellbeing, contact Ellen Devine, Wellbeing Project Manager. Email: ellen.devine@forestryengland.uk

References

1 https://www.forestryengland.uk/news/spending-time-forests-crucial-both-people-and-planet

2 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013916518774400

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