Thriving with Nature - a guide for everyone. Making the most of the UK's natural spaces for our mental health and wellbeing.
Thriving with Nature was first issued in 2019. This second edition was issued in 2021.
Since WWF and the Mental Health Foundation have created the ‘Thriving With Nature’ guide, the coronavirus pandemic has changed all our lives.
We believe it is now more important than ever for everyone to enjoy the remarkable mental health benefits of connecting with nature. However, we ask everyone who uses this guide to do so in ways that are safe for themselves and others around them. This means following the latest guidance from the government where we live, whether it’s England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland – or beyond.
A small number of our suggested activities may now be difficult or impossible. Some destinations may be hard to reach while we are discouraged from using public transport, and some sites may themselves be currently closed to visitors.
Even so, most of this guide’s suggestions about connecting with nature remain easy to follow and open to most of us. And the mental health benefits of being in nature are as important as ever.
We hope everyone takes the opportunity to read this guide and safely enjoys the amazing mental health benefits offered by the natural world.
If you find that your mental health is being affected by the coronavirus outbreak then visit the Mental Health Foundation's mental health and coronavirus hub.
Nature, wellbeing and mental health
WWF and the Mental Health Foundation have come together to produce this guide for you. We want you to thrive and for nature to thrive around you. We think the two are mutually supportive.
From forests, oceans and rivers, to parks and gardens, to window boxes or even house plants, we can find nature wherever we are.
Interacting with nature can be not just enjoyable, but also beneficial to our mental health and wellbeing, aspects of our health that are particularly important to look after.
What is mental health?
We all have mental health and it is as important as our physical health. When our mental health is good, we feel emotionally well, able to look after ourselves and able to engage with the things that we care about.
When we struggle with our mental health, we can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, which can make it difficult to manage in our daily lives.
A 2018 survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that almost three quarters (74%) of people have at some point felt so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.1 For some of us these difficulties may come and go, and for others they may be more long-lasting.
Supporter on Twitter
Nature’s the best way for me to relax and get back in touch with my inner self, who tends to be calmer in dealing with life! Walking in the woods or by the sea, simply listening to nature’s soundtrack whilst watching my four-legged friend play, always helps put me in a better frame of mind.
Supporter on Instagram
Sitting outside, in nature, calms me so much, gardening makes me feel healthier, inspired, the rain calms me, the smell and sounds of birds, animals, flowers, the wind, watching clouds float by, calms me.
Supporter on Facebook
Nature has this calming and enchanting effect. Walking in the woods, smelling the fresh forest air, or sitting on a rock watching the ocean waves and sea birds hunting for fish. Magical.
How do I look after my mental health?
Looking after our mental health and wellbeing is important for everyone, and there are things that each of us can do in our day-to-day lives that can help to support good mental health, including connecting to nature.
Many of us live a fast-paced urban life, with long working days and long, crowded commutes. In these environments there are many pressures that affect our mental health.
This is why it is worth making the time for nature, in whatever way works for you, even when things get busy and other priorities feel more important.
How can nature help?
There are lots of ways in which spending time in nature can be positive for our mental health and wellbeing. From gaining a sense of peace and a boost to our self-esteem, to improved concentration and the psychological restoration. New and exciting research is happening all the time that adds to our understanding of how our natural environment affects the health of our bodies and minds. The reasons why time in nature has this effect on us are complex and still being understood. The benefits are often related to how our senses connect us to the environment around us, from the shapes in nature we see to the scents that trees give off and the soft fascination that nature can stimulate which helps our minds rest.
Here are some of the many ways that spending time outdoors can help support good mental health and wellbeing.
Time in green spaces
Across multiple studies, researchers have found a fascinating link between access to green space, such as fields, forests, parks and gardens, and a reduced risk of mental health problems, improved mood, and increased life satisfaction.2–6 Other benefits include reduced stress, increased physical activity, and better physical health.4,7
Finding nature in the city
Green spaces are a little more difficult to find in big cities. At first glance nature can appear to be lost in the urban jungle, but if you pause, and take in your surroundings, you might notice that nature can pop up in even the most unlikely places. Signs of nature are threaded throughout the city.
It is worthwhile seeking out these natural spaces, such as parks, canals or courtyards. Research suggests that taking advantage of urban green spaces is also positive for your mood and life satisfaction.3,8
We have also included in this guide things you can do in your own garden or outdoor space.
An important link has been found between spending time outdoors and how physically active we are.8–10
Besides the benefits for our physical health, exercising and staying active is also good for our mental health. We know that physical activity may reduce the risk of mental health problems, like anxiety or depression11, and exercising in green spaces can have an extra added benefit.
Walking or running seems to give us an extra boost when done in natural environments rather than indoors, reducing feelings of anger, fatigue and sadness.12
We don’t even need to do it for long! Exercising in green spaces for as little as five minutes was found to improve mood and feelings of self-esteem.13
“Getting out for a walk when I’m feeling down is a must. Even if it’s just 10 minutes. Consciously making an effort to take in my surroundings and remembering to take a deep breath. I always come back feeling better for it!” Supporter on Instagram
Relaxation and mindfulness
Taking quiet time to reflect on our natural surroundings can be positive for mental health and wellbeing. There is evidence that ‘forest therapy’ or ‘forest bathing’ (famously known as Shinrin Yoku in Japan) may lead to improved mental health.14 This involves spending active time in a forest observing our surroundings, using all of our senses.
The practice of ‘mindfulness’ (a way of directing non-judgemental awareness towards our thoughts, feelings, environment and body) has been found to reduce feelings of stress, and increase feelings of self-compassion and empathy,15,16 and who doesn’t want to be a little kinder to themselves?
“I find nature more calming than anything else. The beauty, the wonder of seeing plants and vegetables grow... it just puts things into perspective.” Supporter on Instagram
Connecting with others
Having strong, healthy and supportive relationships with those around us is important for our wellbeing.17,18 Nature has a link with these relationships as we often use green spaces to meet and socialise with others (e.g. playing sports, having a picnic, going for a group walk). In fact, natural spaces can provide a free or low-cost opportunity to get together, and this is another way to support good mental health.9,19 So, what are you waiting for? Grab that picnic blanket or umbrella and arrange a meeting in the great outdoors.
“Nature definitely helps with my anxiety – walking in London parks, walking the family dogs when I visit my parents up north, or just sitting outside. I love going for a walk with someone, friend, partner, family member and talking. I find all of that helpful.” Supporter on Facebook
Interacting with wildlife
Some studies suggest that being around animals and wildlife may be beneficial for overall wellbeing. They have found that activities involving observing and interacting with wildlife in their natural habitat, such as watching birds in a garden, can improve people’s feelings of wellbeing, relaxation, and connection to nature.20–23 The research in this area is still developing and there is still more to learn about the benefits of being around wildlife.
There is so much out there to observe – from watching the garden robin fluff up for winter to the squirrel searching for its nuts in the park, or even to the city pigeon cooing and sticking its chest out to attract a partner for spring.
Why not take a couple of minutes now to look out of your window or step outside and notice what is going on in the nature around you?
“I made sure my office have me sat with a view of the trees and squirrels.” Supporter on Instagram
Many people find nature inspires them to create, be it through painting, drawing, photography or writing. There is so much out there just waiting to be our source of creativity – from vibrant and fiery autumnal leaves to the crunch of frost underfoot on a cold winter morning.
There is also evidence that suggests taking part in creative activities like dance, music, art or expressive writing can help reduce stress and improve mood and wellbeing.24,25 This gives us even more reason to combine creativity with our natural environment.
Why don’t you go outside and capture your surroundings, trying your hand at a few creative sentences or a quick sketch? There is space in this guide for you to do just that.
“I love my creative space. I have it set out so I can go and art journal every morning to keep me well.” Supporter on Instagram
Gardening, conservation and farming
There is good evidence that people who spend time gardening experience a wide range of positive results including improvements in mood, quality of life and feelings of community.9
“I’m blessed to have a garden, and although it needs an Alan Titchmarsh makeover, just doing weeding, planting flowers or looking at it from my kitchen makes me feel better if I’m having a difficult day.” Supporter on Twitter
“I live on a farm and go walking 5 miles a day with my dogs and wife, we have a love of all animals and nature living here, it keeps my mood enhanced and it is the best thing for my thoughts.” Supporter on Facebook
Being part of something bigger
Do you care about the footprint you leave behind? Want to benefit your local natural environment or community? Or be a part of a global environmental movement?
“Nature helps me to understand we are part of something bigger.” Supporter on Twitter
Well, research suggests that taking part in social action and making an impact in our local area not only benefits the community at large but also ourselves. Studies have found a link between taking part in social action or community engagement activities and increased empathy, self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as an increased sense of community.27–29
Nature for everyone
Nature is for everyone. It is essential that everyone can access nature, whatever their circumstances. For someone living with loss of vision, hearing or mobility, their need to enjoy nature remains, as does the positive impact of nature on their wellbeing. However, having a disability does change how and where you can access nature, and with whom. If this is your experience, please let us know how you find using this guide.
Many parks, nature reserves and forest areas have made changes to make their entrances and paths more accessible and some organisations provide activities specifically designed to be more accessible – for example, see our suggestions at the end of the guide on places to go for more information.
Struggling with your mental health can also make it much harder to leave the house, never mind finding your nearest green space. If this is you, then we hope to encourage you to think of the benefits of nature, when you feel ready to go outside.
Financial pressures are another influence that makes it harder to get time in nature, because you have so little time, energy and money for transport and other costs when you’re out. We have included activities in this guide that we think could relate to nature in homes, gardens or small patches of green space in a city. Accessing bigger green spaces may require some travel costs but most of the activities themselves are completely free!
How to use this guide
This guide contains imaginative and simple suggestions for seasonal activities to help you engage with nature in your area throughout the year. Each activity will have different components that research suggests can be helpful for supporting your wellbeing (such as staying active, connecting with others, or spending time in green spaces). If any of these activities feel like a stretch for you right now, even just noticing more of the nature around you is a good start and there are suggestions for what you might notice in each season as well.
This guide is available and open to anyone, but we think it may be most helpful for those of us living in urban areas, with busy lifestyles and who may be experiencing stress or other strains on wellbeing. But there are plenty of activities in this guide that you can tailor to your own lifestyle and needs whoever you are and wherever you live.
The guide moves through the seasons from spring to winter to encourage you to get into the habit of getting outdoors regularly and follow the cycles of nature, but you can start it anywhere, anytime. There’s no need to follow any particular order – we encourage you to get creative!
The most important parts of this guide are the blank pages, which are spread throughout. This is space for you to write or to draw or do whatever you want as part of your reflection on where you are, what you notice around you and in the way you feel there. We hope this will help you find a connection with nature and make the most of the benefits for your wellbeing.
At the end of this guide, there are some suggested further sources of ideas and inspiration in books and online. There is also a list of organisations who provide advice and even planned activities you can join that are out in nature and designed to boost wellbeing.
We want to acknowledge that on some days you may struggle with your mental health and on those days, you may find engaging with this guide a little harder and the tasks that seem simple to others may become overwhelming to you. On those days be gentle and kind to yourself and pick the guide up again in your own time whenever you feel ready.
Now let's get started.
The season of renewal, flowering bulbs, and the re-emergence of green. As the days grow longer, the temperature rises, and buds start emerging, this is a good time of year to get outside more.
“I love the spring because everything is so fresh and coming back to life after the winter, the days gradually get longer, and everything just looks brighter.” Supporter on Twitter
Taste wild garlic. Often found in ancient and mature woodland, wild garlic can be hard to miss. You might notice the smell first and then, perhaps among the bluebells, you might see a carpet of broad leaved plants on the forest floor. Tear a leaf open and if it is wild garlic then you will soon pick up the unmistakable scent! Seek advice if you are not sure. The leaves are best picked when young and fresh (before it flowers), and are perfect for adding to pasta by itself or in home-made pesto. More simply, add for flavour to other or other simple dishes.
Hear the song of birds returned from their warm winter getaways. Can you notice different birdcalls coming from the trees and gardens around you?
Feel the soft, green new leaves on trees around you, changing the atmosphere of our streets and cities, and transforming previously stark woods and forests.
Smell the bright new flowers blooming around you. Parks and gardens are decorated with daffodils, and woodland floors are covered in bluebells and dotted with many other flowers over the course of the season.
See the first butterflies of the year, and the acrobatic manoeuvres of swallows and swifts in the air and tiny tadpoles swimming in ponds.
You can draw however you like, but here is a suggestion… Find a spot to sit or stand that captures your curiosity. Pick a starting point – a leaf, rock, tree, distant field… whatever catches your eye. Draw every detail you see but without looking at the page and without taking your pen or pencil off the page.
Instead keep your eyes fixed on the object, exploring its contours. Once you have finished, take a look at your work – you will find your picture is unlikely to even closely resemble what you were looking at but that doesn’t matter at all. The idea is to focus your attention and notice more of what you are looking at.
Wellbeing benefits: Connecting with others; mindfulness and relaxation; time in green spaces; creativity.
Get to know a tree
There is a good way to do this with a partner (and even better with a large group) and in a location with lots of different trees:
- One of you is blindfolded, while the other guides.
- Setting off from a shared starting point, the guide takes their blindfolded partner on a winding walk before choosing a tree.
- The blindfolded person then sets about getting to know that tree in all ways but sight.
- When ready, the guide leads their partner back to the starting point (again, a winding route is good to add to the challenge).
- Then the blindfold is removed and that person has to find their tree.
- You may be surprised at how successful everyone is… Then swap roles and do it again – be mindful of the obstacles that might hinder the blindfolded person in particular.
The season of sunshine, long evenings and holidays. The warmer weather does lend itself to more time spent outdoors and there is much to explore. Long walks in the countryside can allow you to see a wide range of environments and get a good 'dose' of nature.
“I love the summer evenings especially at twilight when everything is calm, the colours of the flowers. I have a birdbath and watch the birds splash through it and I used to have a hedgehog visit every night... Something very soothing in a breeze or a warm wind.” Supporter on Instagram
See whales and dolphins. We might normally associate the large mammals of the sea with oceans far from home, but actually during the summer is a good time to see those that live or migrate through our waters. The lucky among us could glimpse minke and humpback whales, bottlenose and common dolphins, basking sharks and more. This one will require some planning and travel but could be well worth it!
Feel cool, natural water by going ‘wild-swimming’. The coast and beaches are among the UK public’s favourite natural spaces. As an island, we are all in reachable distance from the sea and salty air. Why not take a dip in the chilly and refreshing water? If the sea is tricky to reach, perhaps there is a river or lake nearer by.
Hear grasshoppers and crickets in the grasses as they make their ‘song’ by rubbing legs and/or wings together. There are 30 species in the UK, and you are more likely to hear crickets at dawn and dusk, while grasshoppers favour sunshine during the day.
Smell the scent of freshly cut grass, barbeques in the garden or at the park.
Taste brambles. Late in the summer, blackberry (or bramble) picking is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth while enjoying the fruits of nature. It is unlikely that you live far from blackberries even if you had never noticed them before. Look around you in a nearby park, canal path or other green space.
Exercise with bright mornings and evenings and warmer weather, it is easier to find time around work or childcare or whatever fills your time to get some exercise outdoors. We all know physical exercise is good for our physical health. It can also be good for our mental health. So instead of hitting the couch or the treadmill, why not go for ‘green exercise’ instead? Without any support or equipment, you can enjoy a brisk walk or jog in a nearby green space. If you do, rather than just focusing on the huff and puff, turn your eyes and ears to your surroundings for a distraction. What plants, wildlife or water are nearby? Can you hear birdsong or the babble of a river? Ask yourself, how the ground feels underfoot and is it changing? How does the air feel on your face? For more of a stretch there are a growing number of outdoor exercise classes, and of course the free and spirited parkrun events spread over much of the country (see page 88). If you have a river, lake or beach near you, that is great too – research shows that outdoor exercise near water has an added boost.
Even small periods of time – say 5-10 minutes – can have a positive effect.13 So you could start by taking a 10-minute walk or jog nearby each day for a week and see how that makes you feel. You might find you are more tempted to keep up the exercise if it is out in nature rather than indoors...
If you want to take things further, you could also take your bike out or hire one to try a safe route in a woodland or other green space nearby. And for the adventurous you could hire a kayak or canoe and paddle your way downriver or learn to sail. E
Wellbeing benefits: Finding nature in the city, staying active, time in green spaces.
Grow or pick your own food
It can be very satisfying to grow your own food and enjoy the fruits of your work directly! It’s also a great way to experience and learn more about nature.
Small gardens and even balconies can be enough space to grow food, such as tomatoes or strawberries. If you don’t have access to a garden, you could plant salad leaves or herbs in a window box or plant pot. If you have enough space, on the other hand, why not go big on a vegetable plot and save on your shopping bill at the same time?
Wellbeing benefits: Connecting with others; gardening, conservation and farming; being part of something bigger.
You may also find that in your local area there are opportunities to apply to share an allotment, or even community gardens or food growing projects. That will allow you to share the labour and the fruits, as well as learn from others in a social environment.
Top tip: If you’re going fruit picking or foraging, be aware that not all wild plants are safe to eat. Before eating something you’ve picked yourself, make sure you know exactly what it is by going with someone who knows what they are doing, reading up in advance from a reliable source or bringing a guide book with you. And picking from higher up the plant will give you fruit that will have been out of reach of dogs leaving their trail…
And there are also immediate opportunities to pick your own food, by going fruit picking or foraging for wild food. Look for local farms, including city farms, or orchards that let you pick fruit to buy. And there are more opportunities for finding wild food than you might realise – from brambles and wild garlic in cities, to mussels on the coast.
The season of morning mists, starry skies and rust coloured leaves. Autumn can be a wild and wonderful time of year. If we are lucky, it starts with an Indian summer and we get some more warmth and sunshine before winter. As the season moves on and the clocks go back, the weather can get windier and wetter…
“I live near a park and adore watching the trees shift and change with the seasons. There is a line of grand tall trees as you enter, and as it turns to autumn, they take centre stage. Their bright red and orange leaves illuminate under the low set sun. As the autumn progresses the trees stand bare above a blanket of amber leaves, covering the grass below. It’s as though the trees have gifted them to the dogs and children to run and play amongst. The sound of them crunching gently under my feet is pure bliss!” Supporter on Instagram
See the trees around us put on a remarkable display of colour as they prepare for winter. This is a wonderful time to go for a simple woodland walk or visit one of the dozens of arboretums (collections of trees in a park or garden) around the country, like the ones at Kew Gardens, Westonbirt or Kilmun (search online for a full list). Which trees are more orange, more red, or more yellow? Which have held onto their green hues the longest? Can you catch a falling leaf before it hits the ground?
Smell the fallen autumnal leaves. Grab a handful from a pile under a grand old tree and lift them to your nose – what does it smell like to you?
Hear robins singing from hedges, trees and bushes. They are one of the few birds left singing at this time of year, as they stake their claim to territory.
Feel the unmistakable smooth surface of a conker or an acorn, as horse chestnuts, oaks and other trees drop their seeds before the winter.
Taste freshly picked apples. Many fruits ripen at this time of year, notably apples. So there are chances to go and pick juicy fruits to eat fresh or try a new recipe with.
Gaze at the moon and stars
You may wake to find morning mists out the window in the autumn, leading to bright chilly days. And the dark evenings but not-quite winter temperatures can make this an ideal time to go outdoors to see the stars.
Our connection to nature goes beyond our planet, and even beyond the Sun and the Moon. Many objects in our solar system have had a role to play in creating the world around us. Take gold, for example, which you may be wearing right now. Gold can only be made in certain types of stars when they explode in supernovae at the end of their lives. After its creation, it is likely any gold you own came to Earth on an Asteroid a long time ago. You are wearing stardust.
Wellbeing benefits: Relaxation and mindfulness; connecting with others; being part of something bigger.
As we move towards winter, some of the most well-known constellations or asterisms (other shapes formed by stars) start to become visible earlier in the evening or morning – such as Orion the Hunter and his famous belt of three stars in a straight line.
Something you can do all-year round though is navigate your way to the North Star – Polaris – from the Plough (or saucepan or ‘Big Dipper’). The Plough is an asterism that forms part of the constellation Ursa Major or ‘the Great Bear’, and is quite easily spotted and recognised with its distinct handle and hook, or saucepan base.
Top tip: Try to give your eyes around half an hour to adjust to the dark, after which time you will see many more stars. While out there avoid using a torch and, if you need to, it is better to either have a red-light torch or tape a red sweet wrapper over the end of an ordinary torch – this helps your eyes to stay adjusted to the dark. Also go with a friend so you are not alone at night and let someone know where you have gone in advance.
You follow the line formed by the two stars that make up the side of the hook/saucepan on the opposite side to its handle. After a distance two or three times the depth of the hook/saucepan you hit another star directly in its path – Polaris. Contrary to popular belief, it is far from the brightest star in the sky, but it shines directly above the North Pole so always shows the direction of north.
You don't need any equipment to enjoy a starry sky (except perhaps some warm clothes) but if you have a pair of binoculars this can help you see the moon in surprising detail (especially if it is not full) and look deeper into areas with lots of stars to find the many more that the naked eye cannot see.
Plant a tree or volunteer for conservation work
Volunteering to help your local environment has many benefits for you and others. Autumn is the tree planting season in the UK, so you could join a local initiative to do this or even plant one in your garden if you have the space! Other activities across the year could be as varied as fixing fences, establishing wildlife ponds, sowing wildflower seeds or building ‘bug hotels’. You can find out about local opportunities by contacting a local conservation organisation such as your local ‘Green Gym’, Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust or National Trust site (see ‘Where to go for more’ at the end of this guide for other suggestions).
If you live near the coast, you could also take the initiative to do a regular afternoon litter picking or beach clean. Bring along some friends or family to join you!
Wellbeing benefits: Time in green spaces; staying active; connecting with others; creativity; gardening, conservation and farming; being part of something bigger.
And there is a lot you can do to help nature thrive around your home, such as planting bee-friendly flowers, putting up a bird feeder and table (particularly important in the autumn and winter months) or building a hedgehog house in time for hibernation.
The season of frosty mornings, quiet woods and murmurations. Despite the dark and the cold, there are some magical moments only to be experienced in the winter.
“I like the bleak and open landscapes of winter and how quiet and still they are.” Supporter on Facebook
See the spectacular murmurations of the starlings. The murmurations are the enormous flocks of starlings that move in unison across the sky at dusk as they prepare to roost for the night. The event starts as streams of starlings return to a roost site from all directions after a day out feeding. Then, as they prepare to roost for the night, these winter visitors create extraordinary shapes as they twist and turn, often in numbers reaching the tens of thousands. There are sites all around the UK where you can hope to witness this seasonal spectacular, but nothing in nature is guaranteed.
Hear the crunch of snow or frosted ground underfoot as you walk in a park or woodland.
Feel the soft yet prickly leaves of the holly tree that is a rare flash of lush green in winter landscapes. This tree and its red berry is a seasonal favourite around Christmas.
Top tip: For a national map of murmuration sites you can visit Starlings in the UK. The starlings don’t always roost at the same place each night, so don't be disappointed if you don’t catch them close up first time – keep trying!
Taste pine needle tea. You will definitely want that warm drink on a winter’s day outdoors so if you plan ahead you can get an added taste of nature at the same time. Pine needles have numerous health benefits, including being rich in Vitamins A and C. Simply add pine needles to hot water and let them infuse for a few minutes.
Top tip: Do not drink pine needle tea if you are pregnant. Do not use yew and cypress needles, which can sometimes be confused with pine. If in doubt, go with someone who can identify pine trees confidently or give it a miss until next time.
Smell… scents are a little suppressed in cold air, so you may need to pay particular attention to find the smell of winter. Can you smell damp earth in the woods, or woodsmoke from houses and canal boats nearby? Or perhaps of winter flowering plants like snowdrops?
Connect with animals
Animals are all around us all the time. From blackbirds to red foxes, and from terriers to tabby cats.
At home you might be able to attract some garden birds with a feeder and bird bath. You can watch the different species popping up and see how they each behave. If you enjoy that, then you could visit a nature reserve with bird hides to take a look at more birds in the wild. Or take a walk around your local park and try to notice more of the birds you can see and hear around you. Find a seat and close your eyes for a minute or two; how many different bird calls can you hear?
Wellbeing benefits: Relaxation and mindfulness; finding nature in the city; creativity; time in green spaces; interacting with wildlife.
And for some bigger animals, visiting a city farm can offer the chance to get up close and personal with sheep, goats, horses and more. Many such farms will also offer you the chance to become a volunteer and help them care for the animals hands-on.
Bring nature inside
Despite all your best intentions, sometimes in winter you just won’t want to go outside. We all know that feeling. So why not make sure there is some nature inside with you for those bitter cold and rainy days? You can surround yourself with sights, sounds and smells of nature.
You could start by potting up some house plants to bring some greenery and flowers into your room. Over time you can nurture and care for these.
You could print and frame some photos of the beautiful natural places you have visited and enjoyed in the past. Put them up somewhere you will regularly see and notice them.
Top tip: If you plan ahead you can plant bulbs in the autumn and have them blooming in time for Christmas. Hyacinths, for example, can be planted in September and after spending most of the autumn in the dark can be brought out just before Christmas to bloom.
Bring the scent of the outdoors in, including through scented candles or diffusing essential oils from trees like pine and cypress. And you could even complete the atmosphere by playing some soothing natural sounds, whether that’s the gentle flow of a babbling brook, the constant swoosh of crashing waves or the melodic songs of woodland birds. Many of these are easily available online or through music streaming services. Let these sounds cast your mind back to places you have been before and remember the sights and feelings you had there.
Where to go for more
If this guide has whetted your appetite to try a few activities and you want to find information about what’s going on near you, here are some good starting points. Descriptions are largely taken from the organisation websites.
- The Conservation Volunteers and Green Gym - Provide good opportunities to participate in voluntary work in the environment and join outdoor exercise groups.
- Dementia Adventure - Helping people living with dementia to retain a sense of adventure through connection to the outdoors, themselves and their communities.
- Disabled Ramblers - A charity working across England and Wales to help make the countryside more accessible to people with limited mobility and that organises accessible ‘rambles’.
- The Environment Trust - Educate, empower and mobilise people of all abilities to improve, preserve and protect their neighbourhood for the benefit of nature and people everywhere. Based in southwest London.
- The Forst Bathing Institute - Have a team of Forest Bathing guides who run events across the UK, with regular events held across the Surrey Hills, and are dedicated to replicating the Japanese scientific studies behind Forest Bathing in the UK.
- Field Studies Council - Offer opportunities to learn and engage with the outdoors, including health and wellbeing experiences around the country.
- Forestry Commission - This national body looks after many forests and woodlands that offer various outdoor activities – from accessible walks to mountain bike trails. Take a look online and see if there is a forest site near you.
- Mind - This mental health charity has a lot of useful information on their website about options for and the benefits of ‘ecotherapy’.
- National Trust - With very many sites around the country, there is a good chance there is one near you! Also provide working holidays and other volunteer opportunities.
- Parkrun - Free, weekly, community events all around the world. Saturday morning events are 5km and take place in parks and open spaces. On Sunday mornings are events for children. All are welcome, whether to walk, jog, run, volunteer or spectate.
- Ramblers - An association of people and groups who come together to enjoy walking and other outdoor pursuits, as well as ensuring the provision of infrastructure and places for people to go walking. The related Walking for Health is England’s largest network of health walks with over 360 active schemes.
- Riding for the Disabled Association - Provide therapy, fitness, skills development and opportunities for achievement, through activities like riding and carriage driving. Welcome clients with physical and learning disabilities and autism.
- RSPB - There are many reserves that could offer you the chance to try your hand at a little birdwatching, including sites recommended for viewing the spectacular starling murmurations.
- Social Farms & Gardens - A UK-wide charity supporting communities to farm, garden and grow together, and providing information for your local area.
- The Outdoor Guide - A free-to-access online resource for walking, set up by Julia Bradbury and her sister Gina, that brings together information for walks around the UK and Europe to promote healthy living outdoors for all the family. TOG also has a section called AccessTOG, dedicated to creating a more accessible countryside suitable for wheelchair users plus buggies and pushchairs.
- The Wilderness Foundation UK - Run programmes to develop future sustainability leaders, build resilience in vulnerable teenagers with challenging lives and mental health issues, introduce rural employment to urban youth, and bring curriculum-based sciences to life in the outdoors.
- Wildlife Trusts - Look after many nature reserves and produce material to inspire our experiences in nature, and offer ‘Well-being through Nature’ courses at a range of locations providing a supported journey.
- Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust - Provide access, activities and conduct research to support the physical and mental health benefits that time in nature, and specifically ‘blue spaces’ like wetlands, can provide.
- Woodland Trust - Restoring and maintaining healthy woods for everyone to enjoy around the country, and in many there are also activities run for health benefits.
- Seek - this is an app designed by iNaturalist with WWF and it uses photos you take on your phone to help you identify plants and animals you find. You can interact with others in the app as well. Often you will want to get a digital escape when out in nature, which is great, but for those times you want to be learning about species around you this is a good place to start!
- Waterlog by Roger Deakin
- The Almanac by Lia Leendertz
- Into Nature by The Mindfulness Project
- The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell
- 365 Days Wild by Lucy McRobert
- Mindfulness and the Natural World by Claire Thompson
And there is much more out there to be found in your library or local bookshop!
This guide was produced by WWF-UK and the Mental Health Foundation in collaboration. Will Baldwin-Cantello conceived of the guide and co-authored with Victoria Zamperoni, Bethan Harvey, Jolie Goodman, Rachel Baird, Ross Fisher. Will Baldwin-Cantello and Antonis Kousoulis are accountable for the scientific integrity of this guide. Thanks go to many others at both organisations for making it possible. The team would like to acknowledge the Wildlife Trusts for advice and support, and all members of the Natural England convened Outdoors for All Working Group for their inspiration – many of whom are listed as places to go for more at the end of this guide. Among many others, the books listed in the suggested reading section of the guide were also a source of inspiration!
WWF-UK is a registered charity in England and Wales 1081247 and in Scotland SC039593 / wwf.org.uk
Mental Health Foundation is a registered charity in England 801130 and in Scotland SC039714 / mentalhealth.org.uk
- Khoury B, Lecomte T, Fortin G, Masse M, Therien P, Bouchard V, et al. Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2013;33(6):763–71.
- Mushtaq R, Shoib S, Shah T, Mushtaq S. Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. J Clin Diagnostic Res. 2014;8(9):WE01–4.
- Nyqvist F, Forsman AK, Giuntoli G, Cattan M. Social capital as a resource for mental well-being in older people: A systematic review. Aging Ment Heal. 2013 May 1;17(4):394–410.
- Rakhshandehroo M, Mohdyusof MJ, Tahir OM, Yunos MYM. The Social Benefits of Urban Open Green Spaces: A Literature Review. Manag Res Pract. 2015;7(4):60–71.
- Cox DTC, Gaston KJ. Urban bird feeding: Connecting people with nature. PLoS One. 2016 Jul 1;11(7).
- Soulsbury CD, White PCL. Human-wildlife interactions in urban areas: A review of conflicts, benefits and opportunities. Vol. 42, Wildlife Research. CSIRO; 2015. p. 541–53.
- Curtin S. Wildlife tourism: The intangible, psychological benefits of human wildlife encounters. Curr Issues Tour. 2009;12(5–6):451–74.
- Curtin S, Kragh G. Wildlife Tourism: Reconnecting People with Nature. Hum Dimens Wildl. 2014 Nov 2;19(6):545–54.
- Stuckey HL, Nobel J. The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. Am J Public Health. 2010 Feb 1;100(2):254–63.
- Baikie KA, Geerligs L, Wilhelm K. Expressive writing and positive writing for participants with mood disorders: An online randomized controlled trial. J Affect Disord. 2012;136(3):310–9.
- Natural England. A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care. 2016.
- Attree P, French Phd B, Phd BM, Phd SP, Whitehead M, Ffph P, et al. The experience of community engagement for individuals: a rapid review of evidence. 2010;19(3):250–60.
- Kirkman E, Sanders M, Emanuel N, Larkin C. Evaluating Youth Social Action Does participating in social action boost the skills young people need to succeed in adult life? 2016.
- Milton B, Attree P, French B, Povall S, Whitehead M, Popay J. The impact of community engagement on health and social outcomes: A systematic review. Community Dev J. 2012;47(3):316–34.