Rekindling childhood connection to nature

A guest blog from GWT Education Officer, Petra Mitchard for Mental Health Awareness Week.
Male stag beetles

Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

I wish I could tell my very much younger self about some of the things that I have learnt during my lifetime; but I doubt that I would have listened to, let alone followed my own advice.  I was always an ‘opposite’ kind of person growing up, you know the type - doing the opposite of what anyone older and wiser than myself might suggest, especially parents!

However, one of the things that my parents successfully encouraged me to do was to spend time outdoors. Not because they didn’t want me in the house, they had both enjoyed the freedom of the outdoors as children and wanted me to do the same. So I spent much of my childhood on adventures in and around the garden, making mud pies, watching wood ants scurrying to and fro or holding an impressive stag beetle in the palm of my hand. And it all fascinated me.

GWT education officer Petra Mitchard wearing PPE

Hugh Gregory

Coping with lockdown has been easy for me, not so for everyone, I know. I’m very fortunate to have been able to get out every day and enjoy something outside, whether it is listening to the bird song, enjoying the heady aroma of the wild garlic or watching a beetle burrowing its way into a log pile. There is always something going on if you stop and look.  It hasn’t always been this way for me though. 

There was a time, many years ago now, when life felt very difficult for me as I struggled with my mental health.  In the end I had to leave the job that I loved, but my recovery didn’t really begin until I reconnected with the outdoors.  A friend suggested that I should try some volunteering for a wildlife charity.  I wasn’t sure but decided that I had nothing to lose.  Being outside, helping other people to connect with nature became a life-line for me and I found that, without realising it, I was slowly beginning to feel more like my old self again.

Something that I have been reading lately, The Nature Connectedness course with Derby University,  has made me think back to those childhood times; the growing sense of curiosity and enjoyment of the natural environment and to my struggles with my mental health.  It talks about the importance of childhood experiences and how they can shape a person’s relationship with the natural world but the researchers have also done much work with people of all age groups, showing that it is never too late to get connected and their research reinforces the link between nature and our mental well-being. They emphasise the importance of getting out there to look for the beauty in nature, to listen to the trees creaking in the wind or enjoy the scent of the flowers as we move into late spring. 

Petra photographing a tree

Petra photographing a tree - by Natalie Waller

So my advice to my young self and others like me, slow down when you are out and about and stop to look, maybe take a photograph or wonder at how the cricket makes that incredible sound.  I get out and connect with nature as much as I can every day now and it has made a huge difference to my life and especially my mental well-being.

Gwent Wildlife Trust are partnering with Melo for Mental Health Awareness Week. Follow this link to find out more and ways to #ConnectWithNature.