Let Nature Feed Your Senses

Date: 
Jan 18, 2010

Source: The Sensory Trust - Let Nature Feed Your Senses

Introduction

As part of Natural England's Access to Nature programme, Sensory Trust and LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) have launched a flagship project funded by the Big Lottery Fund's Changing Spaces programme.

This new partnership between LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and Sensory Trust will connect disengaged groups and individuals with nature and the countryside, through food and farming.

The three and a half year project will involve a new and exciting programme of activities and events throughout England, aimed at getting young people, disabled groups and older people out onto farms, nature reserves, education centres and city farms, to experience nature and the countryside in their everyday lives. Activities will be based around regional networks that will be established throughout England. Innovative learning materials, complementary information, farm visits and nature walks will be developed, specifically designed to help these diverse groups make long lasting connections with the natural world around them.

People with physical, sensory and learning disabilities, and socially excluded groups, often face barriers that leave them feeling remote from the countryside around them. This project will help to bring these groups closer to their environment, using food as the medium to build a closer relationship with nature where it touches our everyday lives. We will develop rich and long lasting connections with nature and take people beyond just visiting the natural world to becoming emotionally connected and actively involved with it.

This is a chance for farmers to turn a stereotype on its head and to say 'Get on my land' to people who are currently excluded from the natural world. Farms are a fantastic gateway to the sights, smells and sounds of the countryside and a perfect way of bringing nature into the lives of people who most need it. We are really excited to be working with LEAF on this ground-breaking project and look forward to making the countryside and nature more accessible to many.

The project is funded by Access to Nature, an open grants programme run by Natural England with £25 million funding from Big Lottery Fund's Changing Spaces programme.

Background

Evidence from reseach in the UK and USA in the last 40 years shows that contact with nature brings substantial mental and physical health benefits. Green exercise and other nature-related initiatives address concerns about the adverse health effects of modern diets and sedentary lifestyles, and there is growing evidence that stress and mental ill-health are serious health problems in Western urban society.

Given these benefits it is apparent that many people who are currently excluded from contact with nature would stand to benefit greatly. Research by Sensory Trust, published in Making Connections, showed that barriers that prevent contact with nature impact particularly on disabled and older people, and are shared by many others including young people and carers. 

There are wider social issues. Although the twentieth century destruction of habitats and species loss traces back to our increasing lack of awareness of real values in our lives, there are new and more immediate symptoms of a growing problem. Fewer children go outside to play, more people see the natural environment as dirty and unattractive. Fewer people cook with fresh ingredients. Fewer people understand the production and supply chains for food, or where resources come from, and as a consequence lack that ability to engage with positive choices for more sustainable lifestyles.

The disengagement of disabled and older people from the natural world represents the disengagement of a significant proportion of society: one in five people. Conversely, finding ways to remove the barriers to access and involvement has potential to bring forward a large and diverse range of people as users and supporters of the natural world, of sustainable food production and lifestyles.

Natural England’s Diversity Review and Sensory Trust’s Making Connections research show that a combination of physical, intellectual and social barriers prevents many disabled and older people from experiencing and connecting with the natural world, but also that many would like to have more access to the environment.

Many of these barriers can be removed by engaging activities that work with different levels of communicative ability. Adapted multisensory activities and techniques that allow meaningful participation in the natural world engage not only children, but also disabled people and older people, many for the first time. A multisensory experiential approach to learning helps transfer new skills and knowledge and strengthen emotional connections with the natural world. This leads to a positive effect on motivation and the desire to maintain these connections. 

Essex University identified three levels of engagement with nature: passive (sitting out), being active in nature (for example,walking or cycling), and being actively engaged with nature. The latter has the greatest potential to forge lasting connections between people and nature and will be the focus for this project.

In other projects, Sensory Trust has seen the benefits of engaging people through ordinary subjects that relate to their day-to-day lives. Food plays a pivotal role in most people’s day-to-day lives. Food production, preparation and consumption can provide the key to engaging otherwise hard to reach groups with the natural world.

Aims

Let Nature Feed Your Senses will connect disengaged groups with nature. The main beneficiaries are young, disabled and older people. Through a national series of visits to the countryside the project aims to develop sustainable, lifelong connections between people and nature.

Innovative activities, training and learning techniques will be used to provide a creative approach to environmental education; community engagement and visitor management. The focus will be on interactive sensory engagement, an approach that takes people beyond simply visiting the natural world to becoming emotionally connected and actively involved with it. The project will be exemplary in demonstrating how the range of barriers to accessing nature can be overcome.

The project will be delivered through regional networks (a network of farms, nature reserves and environmental education centres) throughout England.

It will:

  • Establish eight regional networks 
  • Build the capacity, through training and support, for 240 land managers who will host the visits, events, training and activities at the Nature Networks
  • Provide the opportunity for 9,600 disengaged people to take part in visits, activities and volunteering
  • Build relationships with 500 stakeholders (members of environmental organisations, community groups and voluntary organisations) to share resources and learning  
  • Enable 50,000 people to access web based resources like audio trails, green box environmental monitoring kits and other learning materials. 

We will:

  • Create opportunities for disengaged people to become involved, passionate and enthusiastic about the natural environment 
  • Create opportunities for disengaged people to form lasting, lifelong connections with the natural environment  
  • Facilitate the building and strengthening of networks within and between communities, land managers and environmentalists
  • Build the capacity of land managers to promote and encourage the sustainable management of the natural environment

Evaluation

Feedback will be gathered on the project’s success to share experiences and identify lessons learnt to provide a blueprint for others to use.

Each site will be monitored on a quarterly basis both internally among the group in the Nature Networks and by the project leader. We will use peer-led reviews whereby beneficiaries are involved in gathering and reporting evidence.

Measurements will be based on specific outputs and outcomes. This will include number of events, numbers attending, change of opinion, experience, habits and behaviour, particularly relating to understanding and personal relationship with nature. A full analysis of web hits and downloads will be recorded on a monthly basis.

We will work with the University of Essex to monitor the health and wellbeing benefits and change in outlook and understanding.