Editorial by

Gavin Saunders

Nature and wellbeing – time to take the medicine?

Wild nature is good for us.  That’s probably self-evident to any reader of ECOS, but such a common sense notion has not really manifested itself in how society addresses human health – at least, not until recently.  However the link between the wellbeing of wild nature and the wellbeing of people, both physically and mentally, is now beginning to receive the attention it deserves, and several articles in this edition of ECOS consider current thinking on this subject.

Andrew Blewitt explores the scope for prescribing experience in nature through the health service, while Jenny Archard and colleagues look at the growing number of woodland social enterprises and their work with ‘in-need’ groups in their communities.  Meanwhile, Valentine Seymour explores the links between environmental volunteering and health, and Mark Walker takes a critical look at the ways in which, for all its benefits, the desire to gain voluntary career experience can sometimes be exploited by host organisations.

ECOS has been here before.  Indeed, the human cost of distancing ourselves from wild nature, and the value of shortening that distance, has been a recurring theme in this journal over many years.  Back in 2003 under the heading “The Great Outdoors – Just the Tonic?” (Volume 24), Jules Pretty and others asked whether we recognised that nature is good for us, bemoaned the demise of real (wild) experience, in education and in everyday life, and wondered whether we were now too scared of the unruly side of nature and ourselves, to really be able to connect with it again.  We returned to the subject in 2005 in Volume 26 to explore “The Extinction of Experience”, and we made the links to the emerging debate on rewilding.  Since then the public health crisis has grown, manifested in physical diseases of inactivity and a growing wave of mental health problems.  The need for a ‘tonic’ from wild nature may once have been seen as a preoccupation of the comfortable middle classes, but it is beginning to look more like frontline emergency first aid for everyone at the sharp end of coping with the modern world.

Wild nature may be good for us, but it is abundantly clear that human beings, en masse, are not very good for nature.  The ways to get this fact across to decision-makers have evolved down the years, and one of the latest has been A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife, fronted by Chris Packham.  Gaining mass popular support for the cause of nature conservation has always been harder than for other environmental issues, and the march in London in September which accompanied the launch of the Manifesto was a great achievement, despite the lack of media coverage it attracted.  But it has always been a tenet of ECOS’s approach to look critically at each step in the conservation story, whether it emerges from government, NGOs, commentators, or genuinely from ‘the people’, and two articles in this edition do just that.  Tin hats at the ready…and contrasting views are welcome, as ever.

Criticism aside, Rogelio Luque-Lora encourages us to dig deep, and in spite of the fearful weight of reasons to despair, to look for ways of being optimistic – quite simply because we can’t afford not to be.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading ECOS this year, and we look forward to marking BANC/ECOS’s 40th birthday in 2019, with a look back, and a look forward – hopefully with optimism.  Join us for that.

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