The value of spending time in nature

The value of spending time in nature

School pupils join an education session designed specially for children at Sutton Courtenay Environmental Education Centre (SCEEC). Picture: Ric Mellis

Can you find a corner of wildlife, whether in your garden, park or nature reserve to slow down and reconnect?

I am walking around the reserve at Sutton Courtenay Environmental Education Centre, reflecting on my last six months here as an education trainee.

Standing on the bridge across the stream, looking downstream, listening to the wind through the trees and the reversing sounds from the lorries which are just 100 meters away on the other side of the fence protecting this special place. 

Not just conserving but defending wildlife is becoming more and more important in this current climate of uncertainty. Here, at Sutton Courtenay, we not only educate children, their families and teachers about the amazing world, we inspire them to join us on the mission to save our wildlife.

Countless times I’ve spoken with accompanying adults and some children about how special this site is, being so close to all the industry that surrounds it whilst holding rare species such as great crested newts, and peaceful spots such as this stream. 

It feels like, as a species, we are growing ever more disconnected from the natural world around us. We live in our fast paced worlds, rushing to work, to pick up the kids, to achieve and to ‘do’ so much - how often do we slow down?

We’ve all heard of mindfulness by now, the benefits and how it can help us with our current rise in mental health problems. But how is it really implemented, surely not just through mobile phone apps or colouring books? 

On the reserve today I slow down, walking purposefully, with an acute awareness to see what I can find. This isn’t a conscious thought, but a natural one, which comes with my curiosity and desire to appreciate all around me. 

Wildlife walk

Wildlife walk by Matthew Roberts

My senses are on full alert, I’ve heard colleagues talk of seeing a slow worm on the very paths I’m exploring, and on my last day here, it would be the icing on the cake! They can sense my movements, so a slow and steady approach is needed. Unfortunately I didn’t spot one today, instead I saw a comma butterfly, a ladybird nestled into the leaf of a thistle, berries; black and red, ripening in their hundreds, everyday wonders so often overlooked. 

I, personally, find being in this state incredibly therapeutic. From my background as a nurse I am aware of what is happening within my body to bring me to this peaceful state. Slowing down my movements, tuning in to all my senses; my breathing and heart rate slows as my sympathetic nervous system switches on.

When I walk, in the woods, meadows, or by the river, I’m not consciously aware of mindfulness, yet I know how I feel at the end and how I long for the feeling to continue into the rest of the day!

I now know that for my mental health, coming outside, walking, noticing and appreciating what I find, is so important. Days which might get overwhelmed with life’s conflicting demands, can be instantly improved with time outside in nature. 

Although not always directly, the children who visit Sutton Courtenay often get to experience this mindfulness. We walk slowly down paths to search for evidence of animals, and use ‘listening jewels’ to give them the hearing of owls. These activities will have the same affect as my walk today, slowing down and showing the children the incredible world around them whilst calming their bodies both physically and mentally. 

I hope to continue inspiring people to slow down in nature, and to cherish and care for the natural world around us while we still can. Can you find a corner of wildlife, whether in your garden, park or nature reserve, to slow down and reconnect?


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