Blog by Sarah Bell
A growing evidence base highlights ‘green’ and ‘blue’ spaces, such as parks, gardens, woodlands, beaches and rivers, as examples of ‘therapeutic landscapes’ incorporated into people’s lives to promote and maintain a sense of wellbeing. However, being ‘too busy’ and unable to find time is one of the most frequently cited reasons for not visiting such settings, according to England’s annual ‘Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment’ survey.
In a recent paper, published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, we draw on the findings of an innovative three-stage ‘geo-narrative’ study to explore how and why people pro-actively incorporate diverse nature-based experiences in their lives despite busy schedules, and how this changes over time.
We produced activity maps using data from accelerometers (physical activity) and Global Positioning System loggers (GPS – location) carried by participants for a week. The maps were used to guide in-depth interviews with 33 participants in the south west of England, followed by a subset of ‘go-along’ interviews in therapeutic places deemed important by participants.
In a culture that often prioritises speed – dominated by social ideals of, for example, the productive worker and the good parent – study participants conveyed a desire to shift from experiences of rushed or ‘fleeting time’ to slower, more rejuvenating ‘restorative time’. This was deemed particularly important during more stressful life transitions, such as parenthood, employment shifts, and the onset of illness or impairment, when participants worked hard to tailor their green and blue space interactions to shifting wellbeing needs and priorities.
Images from: https://unsplash.com/new
This work responds to recent policy calls to understand how and why socio-cultural changes and shifting population structures could affect people’s use and engagement with diverse nature-based settings. It links to recent policy and practice initiatives designed to reconnect people to nature (e.g. the UK’s Project Wildthing) and the resurgence of interest in ‘green prescriptions’; importantly, the findings emphasise the need to recognise the diverse ways in which people come to experience a sense of wellbeing in nature (or otherwise) and the challenges of integrating such ‘green prescriptions’ within the complex, shared and often pressured schedules negotiated by people in their everyday lives.