There is a growing body of research that has proven without a doubt that connecting with nature can improve our mental health.
To connect with nature, we need to do more than just be in nature, to connect with nature we need to tune in and really notice nature.
The secret is to use your senses, hearing, sight, smell, or taste. For example, notice the natural sounds, whether it be leaves rustling in the wind or listening to bird song. Watching nature, you could watch animals feeding or playing, admire a view or notice the finer details and intricacies of plants or insects.
But what can we do as path managers to make it easier for people to have these nature connection experiences?
One simple way is to use well-placed seating. We often look at seating as a place for people to stop and have a rest and as such many seats are right beside paths, but if we moved the seats further from the path into an area that is quieter, amongst trees and plants or with a view then it can make it easier for users to connect with nature.
One good example of this we have recently come across is in the outskirts of Lennoxtown. East Dunbartonshire Council had installed benches away from the busy John Muir Way, at the edge of a wooded area with great views across to the Campsie Fells. Lennoxtown Environment Group constructed a section of path which helps to entice people to use the bench.
Sitting at the bench you can relax and listen to birds all around you in the surrounding woodland, there are wildflowers all around and if you sit observing the area, you’ll notice a staggering number of busy insects. At certain times of the year when there are less leaves on the trees users can enjoy spectacular views of the Campsie fells.
Just by moving this bench off the main route and building a path to entice people to use it, it has become far easier for people to have a great nature connection experience.