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to connect with nature

Connecting with nature can help to improve physical and mental health. The increasing evidence for this is so compelling that 'Nature Prescriptions' are now being issued by NHS doctors in some parts of the UK – with GPs recommending time spent in nature to tackle a range of health issues, from high blood pressure to anxiety and depression.

Sadly though, access to green spaces is a problem for many. Friends of the Earth estimates that up to 10 million people in the UK have limited access to public green spaces; and Fields in Trust analysis shows that more than six million people are not within a 10-minute walk of a green space.

More needs to be done to ensure everyone can benefit from spending time in natural surroundings. Government action is desperately needed – but meanwhile, many community groups are working hard to create more accessible wildlife-rich areas, with projects that plant trees, hedges and pollinator-friendly flowers.

Anyone can benefit from connecting more with nature – and if you're fortunate enough to have access to green spaces, here are a few ideas. Where possible we've also included suggestions for people with limited opportunities to visit natural places.

Grow flowers for bees and butterflies

Did you know that bumblebees can only fly for 40 minutes between feeds? So growing just one nectar-rich plant could be the pit-stop that saves a bee. Butterflies, moths, and many other beneficial insects are also attracted to nectar-rich plants.

Pollinator planters in York City Centre

Lavender, rosemary, sunflowers and sedums will all attract pollinating insects. If you prefer to grow native plants, try bugle, honeysuckle and ox-eye daisies. Many nectar-rich plants can be grown in pots or window boxes, so you don't need a big garden to give bees and butterflies a helping hand. And a cheap packet of seeds – such as cosmos, calendula or sweet peas – can provide lots of blooms without a lot of expense.

Helping pollinators by growing nectar-rich plants – and watching the colourful butterflies and fascinating bumblebees that visit your flowers – is an excellent way to connect with nature.

*Buy pollinator-friendly plants

Listen to birdsong     

Head to a garden, park or woodland, and sit or stand quietly for a moment. Listen out for the different birdsongs and calls, and see if you can distinguish between them.

Spending more time in green spaces can improve your wellbeing. Here are some ideas to help you connect with nature

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You may be able to identify which individual birds are singing too – and some birds have distinctive calls that are easy to recognise. Robins and blackbirds are particularly melodic, and their songs are soothing and uplifting. Try a bird identification app – Merlin Bird ID is good – to increase your birdsong knowledge. Or listen to some of the more common bird songs here.

If you can't get out and about, try this birdsong CD from the RSPB. Or search 'birdsong' on Spotify. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to listen to birdsong through an open window – it's usually loudest at dawn and dusk.

Grow your own vegetables

There's something magical about watching a seed germinate and develop into a seedling. And harvesting and eating produce from plants you've grown yourself is a joy.

Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a great way to get more in tune with the seasons – and tending a plant from seedling to harvest is very rewarding. You don't need a lot of space, as many vegetables can be grown in containers.

Courgettes, climbing or dwarf beans, and salad leaves are all easy to grow, and can be grown in pots if you choose compact varieties. You can also grow tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets.Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a great way to get more in tune with the seasons – and tending a plant from seedling to harvest is very rewarding. You don't need a lot of space, as many vegetables can be grown in containers.

Courgettes, climbing or dwarf beans, and salad leaves are all easy to grow, and can be grown in pots if you choose compact varieties. You can also grow tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets.

Five easy-to-grow vegetables

No garden or balcony? Salad leaves, pea shoots and micro-greens can all be grown in containers placed on a sunny windowsill. If you have enough space inside you could even try growing chillies or a compact tomato variety such as Tumbling Tom.

*Buy easy-to-grow seeds

Try stargazing

Looking up at the night sky on a clear night can fill us with a sense of wonder. If you're lucky enough to live near an area with minimal night pollution, taking some time to gaze up at the stars is a mindful way to connect with nature. Try to identify some constellations – The Plough, Cassiopeia, or Orion, for example.

Photo by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash

Some parts of the UK – such as Galloway Forest in Scotland, Exmoor, and Eryri (Snowdonia) – have been designated Dark Sky Parks. These are larger areas where there is very low light pollution, offering superb views of the night sky.

To find a good stargazing spot near you, check out the nationwide network of Dark Sky Discovery Sites – places that offer good views of the night sky, nominated by local people.

Go foraging     

Autumn is an ideal time to gather wild food, as it's when many plants produce nuts and berries in abundance. For beginners, blackberries are a good choice. They're easily recognisable, and can be eaten raw – or transformed into delicious crumbles, pies and jams. Picking blackberries is a mindful activity – as you make your way slowly along the hedgerow, look out for bees, butterflies, and hedgerow wildflowers such red campion, herb Robert and dog rose.

Other free feasts to forage for in autumn include elderberries, hazelnuts, sloes and crab apples.

Whenever foraging for wild food take along a good reference book, with clear photos. Or go gathering with someone who has foraging experience – this is especially important when it comes to fungi, as the UK has several poisonous species. It's essential to know exactly what you're picking – if in any doubt at all, leave well alone.

Also avoid foraging at the side of a road, where plants might be contaminated by traffic pollution, and only gather from areas where you can be sure no pesticides or herbicides have been sprayed.

Get creative     

Photographing, sketching or painting aspects of the natural world can hone observation skills – as you look more closely at a plant or animal, you may notice the fine details: the veins in an oak leaf, a spiral of petals, or the iridescent shimmer of a dragonfly's wing.

Keeping a journal of your observations is another way to engage with your natural surroundings – and you could try collecting leaves or flowers to press to illustrate your diary entries.

Or try land art – the practice of gathering and arranging natural materials such as pebbles, twigs, sand, flowers and leaves to create temporary sculptures and patterns. It's a fun activity to do with children – and if you leave your work of art in situ when you've finished, it's sure to bring some cheer to passers-by.  

Watch for wildlife

A walk in the woods or a visit to a park or garden is a good opportunity to look out for wildlife. In most outside spaces – even in urban areas – you should be able to see a range of birds and insects. At dusk, look out for bats.

If you have children, why not turn a walk into a nature scavenger hunt by asking little ones to look out for ladybirds, butterflies, bumblebees, animal tracks, acorns, fir cones and fungi (to name a few ideas) along the way.

Taking part in a citizen science survey is another excellent way to focus on, and learn to recognise, different species. The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch and Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count are two surveys to try.

Birdwatching is a relaxing hobby that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. Put up a couple of birdfeeders in your garden or on your balcony – you can also buy feeders that attach to the outside of a window. Then sit back and see which species you can spot!

*Buy wild bird food


Mindful breathing is a good way to reduce stress and anxiety. And doing it in a natural environment can increase the benefits further.

Try this simple meditation technique. Find a quiet place to sit outside, or sit next to an open window. Make sure you're sitting comfortably, and try to sit upright, without slouching. Breathe in slowly, through the nose, to a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of four. Then breathe out slowly, through the mouth, to a count of four. Repeat 10 times.

If you find meditation difficult, try a guided meditation recording. The Honest Guys offer a wide range, including several featuring natural sounds.

Or try these downloadable *guided meditations from Complete Unity Yoga, which cost just 99p. Complete Unity Yoga also sells eco-friendly *cushions and blankets to make your meditation sessions more comfortable.

Photo by Lonard Cotte on Unsplash

Little Green Space August 2023

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Little Green Space is a non-profit project sharing solutions to the nature and climate crises, and offering inspiration for a greener lifestyle. If you like our content, please help keep us going with a small donation!