Gabrielle Coleman

Could Nature Be the Answer for Our Lonely Nation?


4 min read

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As we welcome in the new year, coronavirus continues to invade our lives. Lockdowns, social distancing, and regulations have impacted the nation’s mental wellbeing in many ways.

Indeed, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) finds that loneliness is on the rise, and with this increase come substantial and legitimate mental health concerns. In recent reports, scientists have found that loneliness can raise the risk of death by 45%. And researchers from Co-op estimate that this “epidemic of loneliness” costs UK employers around £2.5 billion per year.

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Because of these realities, findings published by Scientific Reports regarding the mental health advantages of green spaces hold real weight and bring with them, hope.

The new study, in which experts analysed information from volunteers using the Urban Mind app, found that levels of loneliness increased with overcrowding, but that these levels fell by 28% when participants were able to see a tree, see the sky, or hear birdsong.

Reinforcing this narrative, in another report undertaken by Forest Research, 90% of participants cited woodlands as important in reducing their stress levels. The report goes on to outline that woodland walks save the UK an estimated £185 million a year in mental health care spending.

These discoveries bolster existing notions that developing a connection with nature improves our mental wellbeing and supports the idea that natural spaces could be a remedy for those struggling in our overcrowded urban areas.

Though, London Wildlife Trust finds that London is becoming greyer all the time, with the equivalent of two and a half Hyde Park’s cemented over each year. So, with 8 out of 10 Britons living in towns and cities, how can we reconnect with nature and feel less lonely?

More than Weeds

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Riverbanks, gardens, ponds, and sports grounds can provide havens for animals and plants, but so too can more overlooked spots, such as gaps in brickwork, gravel, and pavements. These botanical outliers can easily be missed if we’re not paying attention.

Following the success of a similar project in France (where pesticides are now banned in public areas), campaigners created the movement, “More than Weeds” — a project aiming to change our perception of urban plant life. Around London, inquisitive inhabitants are using chalk to scribe the names of ‘weeds’ that they find on pavements around the city, with the intention of drawing attention to the important pollinators that grow beneath our feet. Although we can’t encourage getting your chalks out (in the UK chalking public property is illegal), that needn’t stop you from taking a leaf out of their book and keeping an eye out for the greenery that slips through the cracks.

Explore further: Discover the cities’ weeds and wildflowers in: ‘The Botanical City’, written by Hélèna Dove and Harry Adès.

Wild Swimming and Woodland Walks

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While employees in our Cornwall office may have an easier time finding nature spots, as ‘the largest urban forest in the world’, London boasts some of its own beautiful green spaces and spots for chilly dips.

As city planners take note of the mental benefits and physical benefits (such as plants’ absorption of airborne pollutants) that come with inclusion of green-urban areas, we should expect to see more spaces that promote interaction with nature popping up.

For now, you can discover plenty of urban routes where Mother Nature can be found, whether you’re after a Sunday stroll or a couple of lengths.

Explore further: Discover the green spaces hidden amongst the metropolis: ‘Urban Rambles: 20 Glorious Walks Through English Cities’, written by Nicholas Rudd-Jones.

Urban Nature Spotting

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Ecologists stress that with so many habitats decreasing, urban areas are perhaps alone in their rapid expansion, making urban opportunities to connect with nature more important than ever for our nation’s mental health.

One way of reintroducing ourselves to nature, says BBC presenter Chris Packham, is through the practice of urban nature spotting.

Any Londoner can tell you that, in the capital, foxes outnumber double-decker buses — and that’s because animals that can adapt to our human-altered habitats are still managing to thrive atop concrete.

Falcons, badgers, foxes, deer, and seagulls are a few of the species that have managed to adjust to our noisy, bright life in the cities. And you can spot them easily if you know where to look.

For employees in our London Offices near Tower Bridge, there are many such spots. On their daily commute, our team have spotted strawberry trees, paper birch trees, and cherry trees, as well as birds such as goldfinches, starlings, and sparrows.

Explore further: Notice and identify the array of wildlife that call our streets home: ‘London in the Wild: Exploring Nature in the City’, by London Wildlife Trust.

So, don’t forget that our urban landscapes are full to the brim with (sometimes inconspicuous) life. With the ongoing coronavirus developments, nature may just hold the key to relieving some of our loneliness in 2022.

To do our bit in raising awareness, and to help our teams along in their journeys, we’re developing nature maps for each of our offices in Cyprus, Cornwall, and London, so that at Currency Solutions, a lunchtime walk could lead to a stronger connection with nature.

Do you have any small but ingenious ideas that aim to get your team back to nature? We’d love to hear about them.

Final thoughts

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