As someone who is building a career in improving the relationship with our environment, I could not imagine my life without nature. It is the absolute essence of what drives me as a person, and will do so for the rest of my life. We are truly fortunate to inhabit a planet so diverse, so encapsulating, so beautiful as this one; it is an utter shame to let any of it go to waste, especially when it is usually on our doorsteps.
(Me, Seljalandsfoss, Iceland - 2016)
I, like many others, enjoyed watching Planet Earth 2, and I'm freshly determined to do what I can to protect our planet and all the creatures that call it home. Sir David Attenborough made quite a poignant statement within his final speech, about our relationship with the natural world; one that really hit home.
We are an urban dwelling species. We are born, live and die in the urban environments that have risen up over the past millennia. As of today, 54% of the world's population inhabits an urban environment - this figure is expected to rise to 66% by 2050.
Cities are meccas of opportunity, offering a potentially better quality of life than their rural counterparts, and provide endless sources of entertainment and fulfilment. They have been immeasurably important for our species to become as successful as we have, but have simultaneously created a disconnect between humans and the environment we evolved from.
We, as a species, face many challenges over the coming decades; challenges - which may well - have the potential to alter our way of life for good - and not in a positive sense. The impact of our urban dwellings, and the activities we undertake, are countless, and are felt the world over. And there are many things we must do to halt the coming changes if we are to survive; the one most important, I think, is to reconnect with nature.
First and foremost, spending time outdoors surrounded by nature is great for your health. The total number of health benefits are too many to list, but the most important to mention are:
- Increased absorption of Vitamin D from the Sun's rays
- Increased amount of exercise improving your overall health
- Happiness - light has the ability to alleviate moods
- Improves concentration in children, especially those with attention deficit disorders
A report published by Natural England also reveals the potential benefits for those suffering with mental health issues, stating that increased time spent interacting with nature can help alleviate numerous symptoms such as depression, anxiety, stress, attention and cognitive capacity, and even dementia-related symptoms.
Understanding and compassion
Reconnecting with nature is not just beneficial for us and our health; it is beneficial for all species. The more we can learn from the ecosystems that we depend upon, the better we can protect them, for everyone's survival.
If we are to successfully ensure the survival of our planet and the species that occupy it, we must first understand their needs, and show some compassion towards them. They have just as much right to occupy this Earth as we do, and it is our job, as the dominant force on this planet, to be as accommodating as possible.
I'm fortunate to live just a few miles from the New Forest, in Hampshire; and although it is not totally natural in it's make up, it's a wonderful area of woodland and heathland, occupied by stunning New Forest ponies. We are extremely fortunate here in the UK to have so much natural space, by which point you're thinking - 'What? The UK is mainly urban, surely?'
The answer is, no. A comprehensive assessment carried out in 2011 found urban areas of the UK to total just 6.8% of land coverage, meaning rural areas account 93% - surprised? But it gets better, because 'urban ares' also accommodate domestic gardens, rivers, canals, lakes and so on, bring the actual total of built-on land to 2.27%. So the next time you think there's no green space near you, think again.
So what are you waiting for?
Now that you know the benefits, and are aware of the extent of green space in the UK, get out there and enjoy it. The UK is rich in floral and faunal species, waiting to be found and enjoyed up and down the country. All you have to do, is get up and go.