Many of us know from our experiences over the last year that getting out in nature is good for our physical and mental wellbeing, and there is clear evidence that engaging with nature has positive effects on our health. Certainly, one of the best ways of getting out and enjoying the beautiful scenery and wildlife in the Blackdown Hills AONB is to strap on our walking boots and head out for a stroll. But there are different ways of walking. We now know that whilst simply being out in nature is good for us, it is how we engage with and connect to nature that has the biggest effect on the well-being benefits we experience. So, how to walk ourselves well, how to walk ‘mindfully’?
The first step (no pun-intended) is to become aware of the body. Take a few seconds to notice how the body feels, of the breath, of your feet on the floor and their contact to the ground. Then, make contact with nature through the senses. Notice what you see going on around you, take in the view, and observe the small things too. Notice what you can hear, listen to the birds, to the sound of the wind moving through the trees, to everything around you. Feel the warm sun on your skin and the sensation of the damp dewy grass underneath you when you sit down to rest. Feel rough tree bark and the softness of moss. Breathe in the scent of bluebells, of damp woodlands and of fresh badger latrines (noticing everything means noticing the unpleasant things too!). As you walk, keep tuning in to every changing thing around you, and tune in to how this makes you feel.
The new Somerset Nature Connections Project aims to tackle the barriers that prevent some people in Somerset from being able to experience the wellbeing benefits that nature can provide. The lottery-funded partnership project between Somerset Wildlife Trust and the three Somerset AONBs (Blackdown Hills, Quantock Hills and Mendip Hills), is now underway.
Starting in June, adults with mental health concerns will be able to attend weekly sessions within the Blackdown Hills AONB. These self-care courses will combine practical activities, craft activities, creative opportunities and more, providing people with the skills to continue to engage with and be resourced by nature. People are able to self-refer, or be referred by a health-care professional, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please see the Somerset Nature Connections website.