A Focus On Nature

A Vision For Nature

Windows, wildlife and wellbeing: a vision for a healthier society – by Jennifer Garrett

Welcome to our series of blog posts in the run up to the general election (7th May 2015). Over this month AFON members will share their own Visions for Nature: what they want the natural world to look like by 2050 and how they want to get there. We have created a hashtag on Twitter so why not join the conversation? What’s your #VisionforNature?

Lying on my bed with a bag of Birds Eye frozen peas strapped around my ankle, secured by a tartan scarf; this was not what I had planned for today. Positioned awkwardly with one leg raised by all the cushions I could find, my attention is drawn to my bedroom window as pale wings float past. The side-road where I live is sheltered from the main road by a thin strip of trees, which create a highway for wildlife. Brimstones and various Whites drift along the corridor. Some charge past busier than others, disappearing in pairs as if taking part in a drag race. Goldfinches flit between young branches of oak saplings. Tiny seeds are carried by their parachutes in the breeze. And then a siren disrupts my calm and I’m brought back to central Bristol, where the din of air pollution is amplified.

Rewind several months ago and I was again trapped indoors, for another reason. When my anxiety and depression got the better of me, I spent countless weekends and many sick days watching the world from my window. The outdoors was brought inside as I witnessed mixed flocks of tits passing from branch to branch. I would set myself goals for the day, get some food from Tesco or walk up the main road. When I did my eyes (more often than not) were fixed to the ground, so I would notice beetles pounding the concrete and caterpillars sliding down ‘weeds’. But the most important goal for me, then and now, is to visit my local park. Battling a grassy hill in the wind, leaves rustling and birds singing, is immensely heeling. Watching people use the space was comforting too; in a lonely time I had a shared experience with strangers.

This series of blogs is about a vision for nature and where we hope to see the state of nature in 2050. But, for me, it is more about the state of human nature – our sense of humanity and where we hope society to be in 2050. This has been reinforced by reading over the other entries in this series so far. We are no longer saving nature for nature’s sake, but saving nature to save ourselves. Globally, more and more of us are living in cities. Evidence shows that crowded urban living is bad for our health and wellbeing. Inequality in social and living conditions impacts on health and wellbeing. Sadly, those who could most benefit from nature and green space have the least access to it, or use it the least. My vision is for a more equal society, and nature plays a leading role.

Nature improves social cohesion, reduces stress and can increase work performance. People who live near to green space rate their health and wellbeing as better than those that don’t, and this is particularly of benefit to people on lower incomes. One study in America even found that the more trees there are in your neighbourhood, the more of your neighbours you are likely to know. I know the value of spending time outside first hand, most of us instinctively do. A trip with friends for a walk in countryside is my anxiolytic. Nature is a low cost solution to improving our nation’s health and wellbeing, and would save the NHS too. My vision is for a society that places our social and natural environment at the heart of decision-making, not GDP.

We need to conserve big nature reserves of scientific interest, but I think it’s crucially important to protect and celebrate the ‘less interesting’ green stuff in-between. Urban parks are essential in a world where more and more of us reside in cities. Trees are our lungs. Parks provide an opportunity to connect to nature, and realise that we are a part of nature too. They are a place of tranquillity among the noise of city life, a chance to reflect or forget, a safe place to run, walk the dog or bring the kids, and a place for the local community. Different people visit my local park for different reasons, and they are equally as valid. Watching birds, jogging, an afternoon cider in the sun – all these experiences reflect a space that is valued and provides happiness. It is important that green spaces are used, enjoyed and appreciated.

If we want to take this one step further and inspire people to act for the benefit of wildlife, local action is much more salient. Protecting nature does not purely rest on the shoulders of conservationists; we need everyone. We talk about the need to reconnect with nature, but it’s more about reconnecting with people and understanding each other, hearing the voices of the community. Because without people the conservation movement will not survive. Without people we would not have been able to conserve 15% of land on Earth and 3% of our oceans, and we should celebrate that. In 2050 I want to see nature thriving in the not-so-urban sprawl, where cities and their communities are healthier and happier. Here’s to a better future, together.

Jennifer is a communications professional with a passion for science, nature and the environment. She has experience working on conservation campaigns, research communications and public engagement events. In her spare time Jennifer volunteers for local charities and co-chairs the Bristol Nature Network, a community of young people taking action for wildlife in Bristol. You can follow her on Twitter at: @JMAGarrett and on her blog: stuffitalkabout.wordpress.com