Opening Up Nature

Photo by Erik Mclean on

The other day I came across a magazine feature about beetle research, inviting citizen scientists to record the beetles they see. Insect sightings and citizen science might seem unlikely themes for a wellbeing blog. But it struck me that taking part in research like this is another, different way of connecting with nature, with all its proven benefits for mood, mental health and wellness.

I remember hearing a few years ago about an interview with a (professional) scientist, who reflected that it was his long years observing bird species which had given his life purpose and direction. And as that was true for him, so too can taking part in nature observation add new purpose and direction to all our lives, and so improve mental wellbeing.

Citizen science can be a confusing expression, but it’s all about empowerment: giving power to the people. It opens up science to all of us. What could seem a closed world behind the laboratory door, with unfamiliar language, is thrown open, and our contribution is welcomed and needed. Purpose and direction absolutely.

I used to record the timings of spring and autumn natural events as part of The Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Camendar initiative. Remembering to complete the form and log sightings was a spur to look and observe more closely. It drew me in, so that the timing of leaf fall, the first rowan berries or the departure of the last swallows in autumn mattered more. Taking part reinforced and deepened nature connection for me.

Technology has created new opportunities for people to help, for example as they submit and share photographs or video to aid identification, and use apps like the Mammal Tracker app.

Taking part in citizen science can also be positive for wellbeing as a small but still significant way of contributing to conservation work or lobbying. Records submitted by citizen scientists enable researchers to build a wider and clearer picture of different phenomena. The more data is gathered, the stronger the case for conservationists and policy makers to act for change. So citizen science could help people who feel depressed, anxious or disillusioned by biodiversity’s decline, to harness those feelings to act in these small but practical ways.

Species distribution, bird migration, insect identification, phenology (the timing of natural events): citizen scientists submit many thousands of records every year, across different areas of research. In the Uk many are connected to the Biological Records Centre, although they may be overseen by diverse organisations. And citizen science is worldwide as well. Citizen scientists’ sightings of platypus in eastern Australia are helping monitor the decline of these under-recorded creatures, as just one example.

Nature connection boosts wellbeing particularly by absorbing people’s minds and a sa way to live more in the moment, so that regrets, trauma or fear can be hushed and set aside for a time. Citizen science could contribute to this as it deepens people’s connection, making it more active and participatory (as can planting and growing, for example). It can also be uplifting as an opportunity to learn more about the wonders of nature.

Do you take part in citizen science, or would you like to share other thoughts or responses? It would be great if you would like to share any experiences in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you!

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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