In this blog, we use the Nature Connect project to shine a light on the benefits of nature for mental wellbeing.
Those of us who work at Wild Ken Hill know the power of time spent in nature. Research over the past few decades has of course confirmed this. For example, we now know that spending at least 120 minutes per week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing.
“Activities that involve the senses can help to develop our connection with the natural world, as can activities where we feel emotions such as compassion, perceive beauty or find meaning in nature. For instance, we might notice the beauty of nature by listening intently to birdsong or touching the bark of trees. Smelling flowers or feeling the soil between our fingers whilst planting bulbs in the garden are also highly sensual ways to connect with nature. We don’t always have to be in nature to further our relationship with the natural world: writing a poem about our favourite nature spot or reflecting on preferred walks helps us consciously notice, consider and pause to appreciate the good things in nature”.
All of this was underlined with brutal emphasis during the “lockdowns” associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. Time spent outdoors in green space became a critical moment in the day for many of us. It often kept us going amidst a backdrop of uncertainty, distress, and sometimes grief.
At Wild Ken Hill, we are fortunate to be managing a large area of land. We recognise we have a role to play in using this land to fight climate change and restore nature. It is also equally critical that we provide access for people to enjoy, reaping the associated health benefits. This is particularly true given there are great disparities in the levels of access to nature that people enjoy across the UK.
As such, for some time there have been large areas at Wild Ken Hill which people can access at will. This includes the Coastal Park, where there sadly was a fire in 2022.
In the rest of this blog, we are very lucky to hear from Nature Connect about their visits to Wild Ken Hill, including from some of their clients. So, over to the folks at Nature Connect!
Nature Connect was born out of experiences around the Covid pandemic, lockdowns and the reawakening of broader societal interest in nature. Through the programme, clients in the county with mild to moderate mental health challenges were offered opportunities to reconnect with nature. These opportunities included community gardening, regular local walks in lesser-known green spaces, foraging, growing healthy foods at home, forest bathing, and trips to important local wildlife habitats and projects.
In developing our activities we drew inspiration from our partnership with the University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness Research Group. We explored their 5 pathways to nature connectedness: the senses, emotion, beauty, meaning and compassion.
The team at Derby have been studying how, at this challenging time of human history, it can really help us to become more aware that we are an integral part of nature, and to understand the different ways we can interact with individually and as a community. They have demonstrated how nature connectedness has a far greater impact on our wellbeing than simply spending time outdoors.
On the ground we found that regular positive contact with nature of course has great benefits, particularly improved mental resilience, reduced anxiety levels, and improved overall sense of wellbeing.
We have been so grateful to have been given regular tours of Wild Ken Hill by the fantastic Les Bunyan. Returning to the same special local environment throughout the seasons, learning more about the rewilding and sustainable farming projects, and connecting with some of the incredible wildlife, flora and fauna has been so positive. This has been especially true against the backdrop of the huge anxieties and challenges we face around climate change.
Witnessing such positive steps being taken right on our doorstep is inspirational. And it’s amazing that Wild Ken Hill is accessible by public transport from the bus station in King’s Lynn.
We look forward to visiting again and watching this amazing work grow over time. Thank you Wild Ken Hill!
How did you feel when you were walking around Wild Ken Hill?
‘I really liked it. Being pretty much at the start of this important venture was fascinating. My positive feelings were helped by the pigs and ponies.’
What did you think about the rewilding work that is going on around Wild Ken Hill?
‘Much needed. How fortunate we are to have landowners thinking this way in our own neighbourhood’.
Is it good to hear a positive story about adapting to climate change and working in partnership with nature?
‘YES YES YES’
Do you want to say anything about the trip?
‘It was good to see all they’re doing at Wild Ken Hill to restore natural balance to this part of the county. I love nature and conservation myself so this guided visit pressed all the right buttons. I was fascinated by our walk inside the ‘beaver enclosure’ and loved seeing the signs of their presence. I really hope others were similarly inspired. By which I mean not inspired to join the cause for conservation. Just inspired by the moment, by being in nature. Not unlike the lovely moment when the pigs came over to see us.’
It is extremely heartening for us at Wild Ken Hill to hear how time spent in the landscape has positively impacted people. It is also a great reminder of the role we have to play in providing access to green space for people, and the knock-on benefits this has throughout society.
We’d like to say a quick thank you to Nature Connect, and to the wonderful Les Bunyan whom showed their clients around Wild Ken Hill.
Mental wellbeing is a theme which we are sure will be prominent to our project over the coming years!