Children are three times more likely to be admitted to hospital for falling out of bed than falling out of a tree.* So what does that tell us about our connection with nature? Sobering findings that simply should not be ignored abounded at the Nature Connections Interdisciplinary Conference.
It’s six years since academics and advocates were first brought together by Professor Miles Richardson of Derby University’s Nature Research Connectedness Group. No longer is it a tentative few, suggesting that a connection between humans and the natural world is essential for our health and wellbeing. In fact, it’s now a growing movement backed by research paper after research paper.
A growing movement
Increasingly the importance of nature to our physical and mental wellbeing is driving the agendas of significant organisations and policy makers. In 2019, we joined 150 delegates at the conference, with leading NGOs such as the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and National Trust taking positive action to understand and enhance people’s experiences in the natural world.
The forest is an exciting adventure
At Forest Holidays, we are in a privileged position to help to contribute to a happier and healthier society. For us, the forest is an exciting adventure that we want to share with people. True to our purpose, our holidays are immersed in nature, our team help guests to understand and appreciate the life of the forest, and our unpackaged offer gives people the time and space to renew their connections with each other.
Immersed in nature
Forest Holidays is also leading the way in the UK as the only holiday company with team members who have had extensive training in the ancient Japanese art of shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. Forest Bathing draws on the therapeutic powers of nature and connects people with the natural environment. Our qualified Forest Therapy guides take guests on a truly immersive experience which can boost the immune system, lower stress and give a profound sense of calm. Listening to the findings of the conference we were heartened to see these experiences now being studied further and aim to bring the findings to our offering.
A human need
One of the conferences keynote speakers, Dame Fiona Reynolds, a former director general of the National Trust, spoke passionately about the 'Fight for Beauty' and explained eloquently how across history people have recognised instinctively the benefits of Nature Connectedness. Speaking of her hero, Octavia Hill, one of the early founders of the National Trust, she highlighted the enduring significance of her words which date back to the 1880s.
"There are indeed many good things in life which may be unequally apportioned and no such serious loss arise; but the need of quiet, the need of air, and I believe the need of sky and of things growing, seems human needs common to all men."
The Joy of discovery
Marian Spain, Interim Chief Executive of Natural England spoke to outline clearly how Nature Connectedness is about more than simply being out in nature. She described a relationship, a feeling of joy, saying "it’s about the heart not the head" and when it comes to children, she expressed "this is about discovery and joy and finding out things for themselves". She outlined how government is increasingly recognising time in the outdoors as a necessity for health and wellbeing but stressed how vital research and hard evidence will be when it comes to influencing decision makers.
The pace, enthusiasm and urgency is indeed infectious. In 2001 there were no papers, now the growth of research in this area is exponential. Many of the findings show that a connection with nature actually influences how much we care about the environment.
Why nature connections are at the heart of a Forest Holiday
The need to reach out to people who don’t already have high levels of nature connectedness was also a theme of discussion. For some Forest Holidays guests, quite understandably busy lives, the pace of urban environments and work commitments can limit the time they are able to spend in natural environments. After only a few days away, experiencing the magic of staying overnight in a forest environment, they tell us the huge difference they feel.
"Life today is so frantic that spending time in the woods helps to press the pause button. We’re all inherently part of nature so it’s important that we get back into it to recharge and reconnect. Walking in the forest can help to clear the mind, ready to face the next day."
Forest of Dean, Forest Ranger, Gerry
Connecting more than 20,000 young people with nature
Forest Holidays is also proud to extend these benefits even further through our partnership with national charity, the Family Holiday Association and are delighted to be offering 52 back-to-nature breaks each year at our locations for families coping with severe challenges such as bereavement, disability and domestic violence.
"The break was more than we could have hoped for. It gave us quality family time in a beautiful setting. As a family we have gone through a very stressful time over a number of years and this has affected family relationships. There have been huge financial pressures with no support and the prospect of a holiday was out of the question. You enabled us to have that time together. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much the holiday meant to us. It was perfect."
A further partnership sees the National Parks and Forest Holidays sharing an ambition to connect 20,000 young people with nature, both to improve their physical and mental health and well-being and to ensure that National Parks are valued, understood and cared for into the future.
Nature Connectedness and the Teenage Dip
One piece of research which emerged from the conference was revealed through population studies, showing that children’s nature connection declines significantly from the age of 10 and takes at least 20 years to recover to levels still not high enough for a sustainable future.
The reasons for this dip are not yet clear and more studies are needed but we’re proud to support the governments #iwill for nature campaign which aims to make social action a part of life for 10 to 20 year old’s across the UK.
According to the evidence, our children’s connection to the natural world is heavily influenced by their family’s connections so rather than telling them about nature, Professor Miles Richardson and his colleagues stress that we would be wise to consider the experiences we pass on.
"With the critical global issues of climate change and biodiversity loss symptomatic of human disconnection with nature, there is a growing interest in understanding and improving people’s connection to nature... With the correct approach, nature connectedness can be increased, but ways to reach non-nature lovers are urgently needed. Professor Miles Richardson, Nature Research Connectedness Group."
*Fact referenced by Dame Fiona Reynolds, former director general of the National Trust