Intuitively we know that spending time in nature is good for us; we feel it within us all, walking in a park or listening to birdsong. Science agrees. Connecting with nature makes us healthier and happier according to numerous studies. Recent University of East Anglia research found access to green spaces reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, stress and high blood pressure and even improves the quality of our sleep. That’s on top of the obvious boost to wellbeing and mental health.
With many of us in self isolation we’ve been exploring how to connect with nature while abiding by public health guidance and keeping communities safe.
Watching and recording birds from your garden, or even your window, is a great way to notice the natural world that exists all around us. You can use the RSPB's online bird identifier to learn about the 408 species found in the UK, including rare summer guests.
Increase your chances of feathered visitors with bird feeders that can be ordered online. Contrary to popular belief birds still benefit from being fed in Spring and Summer, but stick to a high protein diet at this time of year. Avoid peanuts, fat, fatballs or bread until Autumn as these can be harmful if adult birds feed them to nestlings. Better choices include pinhead oatmeal, soaked sultanas, mild grated cheese, mixes for insectivorous birds, black sunflower seeds and mealworms. You can even cut up fruit such as soft pears, bananas and grapes.
Bird feeders can also be homemade with milk cartons or bottles, like the example above.
When positioning your birdfeeder try to get it next to a branch so small birds can hop onto it. If your feeder is on a balcony consider fixing a ledge next to it, perhaps you can place a branch or small shelf next to it for birds to jump onto.
Those of us without a garden, or confined indoors can still benefit from greenery through houseplants, a trick office interior designers use for productivity as well as wellbeing. Certain varieties are excellent air purifiers so check NASA’s Clean Air Study if you’re thinking of investing in a delivery.
Once you have one houseplant all you need is time, attention and a little compost to grow more. Many houseplants are easy to propagate, while some such as spiderplants grow their own babies (brilliantly called spiderettes). Simply pot in a lightweight potting mix, or root for a day or two in water first.
If you’re not sure how well a plant will propagate you can always experiment and see what takes. One of the joys of gardening is the absence of rules. Instructions are available on the BBC’s Gardeners World website.
Creating a nature haven
There are many simple ways of encouraging wildlife to thrive in urban gardens, helping to support ecosystems and offering a chance for you to learn about native species.
Animals dislike bare space in a garden so planting up corridors can encourage invertebrates and small amphibians to move around. Avoid digging unless you’re actually planting to keep up populations of earthworms and larvae, which are important food for other species. If you have space for a pond, even a small ornamental one can provide good shelter for tadpoles.
Nectar rich plants are vital for bees as well as butterflies. Many online garden centres offer advice and symbols identifying bee-friendly plants, but you can’t go wrong with lavender, rosemary, and ox-eye daisies. All of which grow well on balconies too.
One thoroughly positive response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a surge in sustainable living, with many people starting to grow their own food, perhaps for the first time. Late March and early April are perfect for planting many summer crops from courgettes and carrots to early crop potatoes, leeks and lettuces. Seeds can be ordered and delivered through the post.
For more tips and guidance, Wildlife Watch has some great downloadable guides on how to support wildlife from your own home, from making your own birdbox to creating a butterfly feeding table. These can be downloaded here: https://www.wildlifewatch.org.uk/activity-sheets
However you find them, moments to enjoy nature are welcome in these uncertain times. If we can actively help the natural world while doing this we might see some lasting positives come out of a very difficult situation.