Words by: Megan Humphreys
In a time of such undeniable ecological crisis, it is more essential than ever to connect people with the natural world and create longstanding and emotive relationships with our green landscapes. While we know it’s not easy to take time to reconnect with the natural world, it is boundlessly important. Not only is connecting with nature a key component in creating compassion for our planet, but it is intrinsically beneficial to both our physical and mental health.
For decades now, interaction with nature has been a cornerstone of preventative healthcare in Japan, where it’s poetically known as Shinrin-Yoku; the practice of ‘forest bathing’. It follows the premise that time spent outdoors paying attention and simply being present in nature can put us in harmony with the natural world and thus restore us to our happiest, healthiest selves. On a physical level, time spent in nature relaxes our nervous system, lowers our cortisol levels (our body’s stress hormone) and increases serotonin and other happy hormones in our brains. For many, it can be a welcome respite from the frazzle of everyday life and a precious opportunity to experience something beyond their own tangle of worries.
Nature connectivity is especially precious for those of us who reside in cities and are statistically more vulnerable to experiencing excessive stress. However, though city life can sometimes leave you feeling disconnected from the natural world, it’s heartening to know that in reality our ‘green and pleasant land’ is actually home to more nature reserves than McDonalds’, thanks to institutions like The Wildlife Trusts, The Woodland Trust, and The National Trust.
Both a household name and longstanding British institution, The National Trust operates as a key component in safeguarding our countryside and protecting our vulnerable wild landscapes. With a large focus upon maintaining our diminishing native woodlands, and restoring threatened habitats, they care for over 25,000 hectares of land (including areas of beloved Yorkshire landscapes like the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors), meaning their potential for positive environmental impact is immense.
Here in Yorkshire, our rich and diverse landscapes have always played a significant role in our cultural identity. Thanks to the National Trust, sites of historical significance not only stand in harmony with the lands that shaped them, but offer immersive and accessible green spaces within a stone’s throw from major cities and towns.
In West Yorkshire, Nostell Priory offers visitors a rich ‘mosaic of interconnecting habitats’ that knit together grazing pastures and wildflower meadows with pockets of ancient woodland. Visitors are able to explore over 300 acres of land, including their 18th century parks and gardens which have been beautifully restored to their original splendour. The lakes and woodlands in the surrounding estate are home to herons, swans and kingfisher and provides a tranquil escape from daily stresses.
Likewise Beningbrough Hall, on the outskirts of York, offers visitors a chance to explore beautiful gardens that flourish all year round. Their miles of parkland are dog-friendly, with accessible walks that can lead you through billowing larch woodland or alongside riverbeds where you may even catch a glimpse of resident otters.
Not far from Ripon, North Yorkshire, is Fountains Abbey – one of The National Trust’s most well-established Yorkshire sites. Beyond the Abbey ruins and its beautifully manicured gardens, the vast estate stretches over miles of countryside, leading guests through a myriad of walking trails and into rich pockets of ancient woodland. Within this vibrant ecosystem, trees over two hundred years old reside with enduring grandeur, and elusive wildlife like the Green Woodpecker as well both Roe and Sika Deer can be spotted between the rustling leaves.
Woodlands such as these demonstrate the intricacy and complexity of our ecosystem, and serve to highlight the importance of an interconnected natural world. While it’s easy to forget our own place in nature, in true Shinrin-Yoku style; immersing ourselves in meditative and restorative spaces such as woodlands can help us regain this precious sense of belonging. Whether it’s a short walk or a whole afternoon forest-bathing, I urge you to take a moment every now and again to listen to the trees – there’s a lot we can learn from them.