for those who love the outdoors

13 May, 2024


Mother Nature will see you now: WWF introduces the world’s greatest therapist

For Mental Health Awareness Week 2024, WWF shines a light on people across the UK feeling the benefits of nature on their health and wellbeing Research shows spending time in nature can improve mental wellbeing, yet the UK has lost almost half of its biodiversity, putting it in the bottom 10% of nature depleted countries.

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We’ve all heard the phrase “fresh air will do you good”. This Mental Health Awareness Week, WWF looks at how this age-old adage rings true.

From a seaweed harvester in the Outer Hebrides and regenerative farmer on the Scottish borders, to a full-time carer from North Tyneside and a radio broadcaster from Coventry, WWF shines a light on some of the inspirational people proving that spending time in nature can support our health and wellbeing.

New research from King’s College London has found that spending time in environments with a diverse range of plants and animals can improve mental health, and these benefits can last for up to eight hours, cancelling out a stressful day in the office.[1] In addition, recent research by MIND mental health charity also highlighted that 63% say that gardening or spending time in nature helps their mental health, with respondents saying it makes them feel less stressed and that they benefit from taking in the sights, colours and smells of the outdoors.[2]

The research is clear - nature is our life support system. It’s the web of life on which we all depend. When we work with nature and not against it, we have cleaner air to breathe, better water to drink, healthier food to eat. And science shows that time spent in nature makes us happier and healthier.

However, nature is in crisis. The UK has lost almost half of its biodiversity, putting it in the bottom 10% of nature depleted countries, and we need immediate action from all sectors of society to bring it back from the brink. A 2023 survey conducted by the National Trust, RSPB and WWF revealed that 66% of UK adults feel that a decline in nature would have a negative impact on their health.[3]

But when nature thrives, so do we – our health, our wellbeing, our economy. A thriving natural world means a better future for all of us. Here are some inspiring people from around the UK that are working with nature – to protect and restore it – which ultimately has supported their mental wellbeing.

Alexander Thompson-Byer – The seaweed harvester flying the flag for nature-friendly farming in the windiest place on Earth

After becoming disenchanted with his busy London life and the impacts it was having on his mental wellbeing, Alexander and his young family moved about as far away as they could get – to North Uist, a small but very windy island in the Outer Hebrides.

Alexander, a gardener turned seaweed harvester, now has a croft (a small farm found in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland), and dreams of turning it into a sustainable patch based on the principles of permaculture – a lifestyle where gardeners and farmers observe changes through the seasons, working with nature so that plants, animals and people live in harmony.

After being taught the traditional way of gardening, Alexander decided to start ‘letting nature in’ and said that he realised “working with nature instead of against it can bring so many benefits.” Best of all, working with nature has given Alexander a host of new “workmates” including ladybirds which act as his natural pest controllers, and all kinds of other creatures that have moved into the habitat he’s created.

Living as a person with ADHD, involving therapy over a 17-year period to support his mental wellbeing, Alexander started to see the benefits of being immersed in nature through his gardening career, explaining, “I didn't know the importance of being outside until about halfway through my career, especially because I've got ADHD. Some people say ADHD is a curse but it's just a way of life really. I find being outside and being able to burn up a lot of my thought process and get down and just immerse myself in nature balances me out.”

Despite the obvious challenges of working in one of the windiest places in the UK, Alexander feels grateful for the benefits this lifestyle grants him. “I'm very fortunate that my muse is to be outside and work the land and just kind of get busy, get my hands dirty. It kept me smiling really, kept me alive. Nature makes me feel good, it makes me, me, it makes me feel free.”

And it’s this feeling that Alexander hopes to pass on to his son. “It’s very important to me that he’s well rooted in nature because I know how good it made me feel. So, knowing he’s immersed in this, he’s going to grow up to have the best mindset.”

Alexander’s message to people who need support but feel they don’t connect to nature is to “let nature in, relax, let things grow, get a bit messy, and watch nature fill those spaces. And have some fun doing it!”

Download Alexander’s pictures here

Denise Walton – The meditating farmer who switched to nature-friendly farming

Denise Walton owns Peelham Farm in Berwickshire, Scotland with her husband Chris and son Angus. Denise and Chris bought Peelham as a smallholding conventional mixed farm in 1989, but gradually transitioned to adopting regenerative principles, such as improving soil health and avoiding use of chemical pesticides, to promote biodiversity on the farm and mitigate climate change. By 2005 they were fully Organic, and by 2015 they were ‘Pasture For Life’ certified, meaning that their livestock is raised only on grass and pasture.[4]

Denise, who has a background in ecology, explains that “adopting regenerative farming techniques will always have many challenges, but the concept of ‘farming with nature’ has provided a huge amount of hope and positivity in our lives. This has been due to the often unexpected and counter-intuitive responses of wildlife and farm productivity, such as improvements in grassland plant biodiversity with increased productivity.”

“Regenerative agriculture is so much more than the physical regenerating of farming, but also allows for a regenerative mindset and allows the social and environmental impact of farming to be a very positive thing for now and future generations.”

Denise meditates on her farm every morning and evening – she believes this is the simplest solution to finding clarity and helping with decision-making for the day ahead. Through this practice she can hear, breathe in, and smell the land, and says that: “It brings my mind to the peace and healing of my heart.”

Denise’s son Angus has also experienced the positive effects of agroecological principles on his mental health. Regenerative farming has also helped him during times of depression in his life: “Having had periods of fairly low mental health, regenerative agriculture has been a very powerful tool to improve my mental health.”

Download Denise’s pictures here

Shantyl Rogers – A radio broadcaster making nature sing

Shantyl is a radio presenter, a member of the People’s Assembly for Nature and does impactful work as a mentor for vulnerable children.

Proudly Coventry born and bred, Shantyl recalls her experiences of growing up in the city: “As a kid, I used to like going on school trips, but it was only once a year, if that. In Coventry, it’s quite built up, it’s quite urban, so we don’t get the chance to see nature that much.”

Following participation in creating the People’s Plan for Nature, Shantyl was motivated to introduce nature into the lives of the young people she supports, and wanted to find a way to bring music into this. “I’ve always used music as a therapy, but it was even better listening to music in nature.” Shantyl would organise walks in local parks where they could listen to music and really started to see the benefits it was having for the children.

“They were more relaxed, they’d open up a little more about what was going on at home, their anxieties, what they’re worried about. They can be themselves when they’re in nature and I think their mental health is a lot better out there than speaking in an office.”

But Shantyl isn’t stopping there, and she wants to use her platform as a radio presenter to get the message out even further. By creating her own radio station, Shantyl is going to broadcast the people’s plan for nature message with a little help from the community. “Because it’s based in a community centre, I can get the young people involved, get their parents involved, their caregivers, and we can take it to the wider community, to the people who need to hear it and take action together.”

Peter Dunbar – A carer living with autism who has made nature his sanctuary

A full-time carer for his mother in North Tyneside, Peter Dunbar [second from right] often finds solace when surrounded by nature. “I spend about 12-16 hours a day at my mams so when I’m not caring for her, or at home sleeping, I’m going to be out in nature. As part of living with autism, I can get really anxious and often things get on top of us especially in busy environments.”

Peter has found that at times when life becomes too stressful or overwhelming, being in nature is a source of calm, explaining that “watching the wildlife, listening to the birds singing, the wind, it just calms us down. It’s probably the most important component for my mental health.”

In early 2023, Peter participated in the People’s Assembly for Nature, a representative group of 103 people from all across the UK, with different backgrounds, values and experiences, who discussed the issues facing the UK’s nature. The assembly then created the People’s Plan for Nature - a set of recommendations for governments, businesses, communities, NGOs and individuals to protect and restore nature in the UK.

Peter recalls the most impactful discussions from the assembly, noting that “the biggest thing for me was the extent of the loss of biodiversity and the amount of food we produce that goes to landfill.”

Peter also took the People's Plan for Nature to Parliament with Peers for the Planet, and was part of a parliamentary event sharing the plan with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and shadow/opposition ministers.

Following participation in the assembly, Peter has since been involved in local events, including the NWG Innovation Festival in the North East.

Motivated by his experiences and scoping out ideas to help preserve nature locally, Peter surveyed almost 100 people to see how often they get out in nature and was surprised with the results. “For the vast majority of people, it was often on a weekly basis or less. I was quite surprised at that as nature is my sanctuary and I’d be lost without it.”

Join thousands of people demanding an end to the destruction of our natural world. Sign the petition Stop the destruction of nature | WWF

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