The National Trust is launching a series of activities to help people engage more with their natural surroundings.
The initiative follows new research released by the conservation charity that shows widespread concern about nature’s decline, as well as more people disconnecting with nature in their daily lives.
Initiatives by the charity include a new weekly guide to help people connect with nature every day and a series of ‘hands-on’ activities running at Trust places across Northern Ireland – from beach cleans and bulb planting, to bird watching – where people can connect with nature as they help to protect it.
The new research shows that people who make small, every day connections with nature are much more likely to want to take actions to protect it.
And, as last October’s State of Nature report revealed, this is needed as of the 2,450 species in Northern Ireland, 11 per cent are under threat from extinction, painting a bleak picture for wildlife here.
The report identified seven key ‘noticing nature activities’ strongly linked with wanting to take action to help nature, and emotional and wellbeing benefit.
These included actively listening to birdsong, smelling wildflowers and watching butterflies and bees.
However, research shows only one in seven adults (14 per cent) and one in 10 children (10 per cent) regularly take part in these simple pleasures.
For adults in Northern Ireland, in the past year:
n 83 per cent infrequently or never smelled wild flowers;
n 64 per cent either infrequently or never listened to birdsong;
n 63 per cent rarely or never watched the sunrise.
Professor Miles Richardson, Head of the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby, said: “This report for the first time demonstrates that simple everyday acts of noticing nature that build a closer connection are key to people taking action for nature.
“We discovered that the kind of connection that makes the difference involves more than simply spending time outdoors – instead it’s about ‘actively tuning in to nature, regularly spending simple, bite-size moments relating to nature around you’.
“Every bit of connection makes a difference. If we’re to tackle the nature crisis, then a closer connection and new relationship with nature is needed across the majority of the population.”
The National Trust is launching a week-by-week ‘noticing nature’ guide on its website to help people tune in to the nature around them.
The equivalent of a ‘couch to 5k’ for nature, the guide encourages bite-size activities, taking from only 20 seconds to 20 minutes, which can be easily squeezed into daily life to help people connect to nature and increase their willingness to take actions to help nature’s decline.
Ideas for spending time in nature everyday include: go barefoot in grass; listening to bird song; go litter picking; plant something to grow; and look at the moon and the stars.
The researchers also found that nature connectedness and simple everyday acts of noticing nature are linked with higher wellbeing.
The most nature connected adults reported higher levels of happiness (15 per cent more than the rest of the population).
Nature connectedness is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Children were more likely to report feeling happy if they: had a higher level of nature connectedness; engaged in meaningful activities linked to nature such as writing songs or poetry about nature or celebrating natural events; relaxed in nature (eg, sitting and relaxing in a garden).
Andy Beer, Noticing Nature Project Lead at the National Trust, said: “With the current nature crisis, people may feel powerless in the face of the daunting task of helping halt its decline.
“But evidence shows that small, everyday interventions in peoples’ lives can lead to real meaningful change that could add up to make a huge difference.
“Daily ‘doses’ of nature are vital to making this connection. For instance, watching clouds, watching wildlife, watching a sunrise or staying up to look at the moon or spotting stars, are all part of becoming more connected – and it’s not just about becoming more conservation-minded. It’s great for your wellbeing too.
“Over the coming months we’ll be continuing to develop activities for people to enjoy each season and we hope to inspire people of all ages to get involved.”