Blog post

The Green Care Code – Good for nature, good for you

By Professor Miles Richardson - 16 September 2021

From 18-26 September, communities across the country will join together for Great Big Green Week, the largest national event for climate and nature in the UK with thousands of events designed to celebrate how people are taking action to tackle climate change and protect green spaces, and encourage others to get involved too.

As part of Great Big Green Week the University of Derby is launching a Green Care Code with Go Jauntly and the Mental Health Foundation. Simply, Stop – Look – Listen and Enjoy Nature! Here, Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness at Derby, explains why  this simple code is all it takes to help improve your own and nature’s wellbeing.

Green Care Code - one man in nature, one surrounded by technology and distractions

Over recent years, research by the University’s Nature Connectedness Research Group has shown again and again that simple actions in nature matter. Just taking a moment to notice nature helps build a closer relationship with it. And research shows that this close relationship provides a boost for mental health and pro-nature actions

The Great Big Green Week celebrates action for nature and an essential first step to action is finding a friend in nature. Working with the National Trust, we ran a national YouGov survey to explore what best explained pro-nature conservation behaviours. Key factors were people’s connection with nature and actively tuning into nature, which we know increases nature connection. Engaging in simple nature activities, such as taking a moment to listen to bird song, were the largest contributors to pro-nature conservation behaviours. More widely, other researchers have found a robust and causal link between nature connection and pro-environmental actions, that is, those related to cutting carbon use, rather than creating homes for nature.

If the benefits to nature aren’t enough, the Green Care Code is good for our own mental wellbeing too. When we prompted people to ‘stop, look and listen’ in order to notice the good things in nature for a week, they experienced clinically significant improvements in mental health – and this was in an urban environment. People wrote about the breeze in the trees, beauty of flowers, active wildlife in the park, changing seasons and birds singing. This doesn’t need a special trip, it can be at the bus-stop or on a trip outside to your wheelie bin, nature finds a home in the most unlikely places. More recently we’ve repeated this work and found significant improvements in both wellbeing and pro-nature actions for those taking part. It’s clear – simple moments with nature matter for human and nature’s wellbeing.

Sadly, people don’t tend to notice nature. There are many demands for our attention and nature features less and less in our lives. In wider analysis with the National Trust we found around 80% of people report that they rarely or never watched wildlife, smelled wildflowers or drew/photographed nature. 62% of people rarely or never listened to bird song or took a moment to notice butterflies or bees. It comes as no surprise then that although 80% of people expressed concern about the state of nature, far fewer actively help its recovery – for example only 29% said they’d created a home for wildlife in the past year. We found that those people with a high level of nature connectedness did much more than those with a weaker relationship.

The 2020 lockdown revealed this hidden need for a Green Care Code. Through looking at Natural England People and Nature Survey data we found that people reported noticing nature more, and that explained higher levels of wellbeing and pro-nature actions. Sadly, although people found a friend in nature during the lockdown of Spring 2020, the levels of noticing nature have fallen since.

The climate and wildlife emergencies show that our relationship with nature is failing. Fixing that relationship requires transformational change throughout society. However, part of that change is more people celebrating the benefits of a close relationship with nature. That needs a reminder to pause, notice and enjoy nature – a Green Care Code. A code that reminds us to care for nature and care for ourselves, for a future with more wildlife and more celebration of it because there’s no wellbeing without nature’s wellbeing.

So, remember your Green Care Code every day, wherever you are, and Stop – Look – Listen and Enjoy nature.

Find out more about the Green Care Code here.

About the author

Professor Miles Richardson smiling whilst wearing goggles on his head

Professor Miles Richardson
Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness

Professor Miles Richardson leads the Nature Connectedness Research Group.

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