Reflections on Nature Connect 2017 Conference: From Derby to Nara

Nature Connections 2017 held at the University of Derby on June 27th brought together key people from research and provider communities with an interest in this area. The conference included keynotes from award-winning author, naturalist and environmentalist Mark Cocker and James Cross: Chief Executive of Natural England. The eclectic event provided a platform for sharing and learning from the latest research and practice in nature connection. Core themes of nature connection outcomes across the lifespan; enabling nature connection; and linking nature connection research and practice were discussed and the Irish research groups NEAR Health funded jointly by HSE and EPA and our GO GREEN EX team were represented. The conference organiser, researcher Miles Richardson reflected on the great progress made since Nature Connections 2016 and how the evidence to support not just exposure to nature, but connecting with it in various forms is growing.

The large choice of researchers and professionals from very various disciplines has brought into light the complexity of our understanding of our relationship to nature. To move forward in this field of research, we need to think radically and innovatively (EU terms this disruptive science) and consider every facets of nature and our connection to it. This conference truly aligned with these considerations and offered a large panel of qualified speakers.

Presentations of available and standardised tools to measure our connectedness to nature (PhD student Ryan Lumber and Anne Hunt) was a great help as this kind of tools will be used for further field studies carried out by Go Green Ex. Joelene Hughes also brought some interesting points on our understanding of how environmental behaviours are shaped over the lifespan. These kind of research is crucial for the design of target pro-environmental messages.

This conference also provided consisting evidences on the healing power of nature. Caroline Brazier exposed her work on ecotherapy and how mindfulness of natural surrounding can help in a healing process. Same with Shirley Gleeson who perfectly described her own study on forest bathing therapy. Inspired from the Japanese and Korean forest bathing, this trial showed great results on mental health and mental well-being. On the same topic, the work of Wendy Brewin on using nature support on patient with dementia was greatly inspiring and creative. These three talks highlighted the importance of nature in healing processes and how it is available to any communities or to anyone. The case study presented by Annie Berrington met also these considerations as she exposed the positive results from the implementation of an outdoor adventure club on children with very little previous contact with natural environments.

A view of University of Derby through the cherry blossoms.

On another aspect to our link to nature, Kate Fletcher gave a genuinely inspiring speech about her work as a designer and as professor of Sustainability, Design and Fashion at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (University of the Arts London). She explained how nature and her relationship to it shapes her work and decisions. She also exposed the successes and difficulties she encounters when working into the woods with students. This conference was an opportunity to discover the remarkable work of Nikki Street on how we can amplify the power of nature through Art. Her neuroscience approach added the scientific research protocol that completed perfectly the previous presentations.

Our research partners from NUI Galway NEAR  research group presented findings from their stakeholder and community engagement. Our brief presentation focused on transdisciplinary approaches to well-being and we noted that key words including air pollution, resilience, and sport, had been overlooked at the conference. There is a open door for discovery of new evidence based pathways to well-being by employing transdisciplinary models. Taking into account environmental features, rather than simply assuming what is green is natural, is required.

A research topic in the journal Frontiers is dedicated to new ideas on nature and well-being-Editors include the conference chairperson Prof. Miles Richardson.

One interesting coffee inspired interaction was among our team, Lucie and Tadhg with Eun Yeong (PhD student at Sheffield Hallam) where together we spoke of how the the cherry blossom image resonated with us-In Nara, Japan, the brief coming of the cherry blossom represents the concept of renewal and the fleeing nature of life. Researchers must seize the day.

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