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Making Time to go Wild in 2021

By Pam Le Noury, Head of Expedition Cruising

 

Pam has spent more than 20 years working at sea and in the outdoors. The greatest gift and lesson gained from this vocation has been spending so much time observing natural systems, feeling connected to these wild spaces and being a part of the weather and the larger planetary patterns that drive everything around us. Like all of us, Pam cannot wait to be spending more of her time in some of the great wilderness destinations we visit, but until then she explains that the benefits of time in nature can be gained from your own home. She encourages you to get your daily dose of nature and discusses the importance of natural spaces to our planet as well as to ourselves.

 

For the past few decades our primary method of evaluating natural resources was simply the market value of its extraction. A forest was valued in terms of its wood or fruits, the ocean was valued in terms of its seafood, a mountain was reduced to the value of its minerals and so on.

It’s hard to protect eco-systems when the economics are stacked against them. There is a lot of pressure to chop down a forest when so much money and jobs can be created by its timber. But a new method of evaluating our natural resources has been gaining traction and this is the eco-system services approach. It looks at those things that nature provides us that we have, until now, taken for granted.

There are:

              • Provisioning services (food, medicine)
              • Regulating services (air purification, water purification, water regulation, climate control, disease control, suppression of pathogens, pollination)
              • Supporting services (nutrient cycling, photosynthesis, soil formation)
              • Cultural services (health, recreation, reflection)

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©Aarhus University http://envs.au.dk

 

And these services, when you start to understand them, quantify their value and put that on a balance sheet, can often easily outcompete the extractive value of a natural resource.

A tree’s timber could be worth £1000s, but a tree purifies the air, creates oxygen, deflects wind, stores carbon, provides a habitat for wildlife, protects the ground from extreme temperatures, produces food, stabilises the soil, prevents floods. And these services far outweigh the value of its timber and all of a sudden it makes far more sense to keep the tree and the forest alive. They are worth far more alive than dead.

 

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With these values in mind, protecting and restoring eco-systems is no longer just philanthropy, it makes good economic sense and it’s an excellent investment for governments, companies and households.

                  • A study in New York City found that urban trees remove enough particulate matter to reduce annual health impacts by up to $60.1 million.
                  • In Europe the pollination services of crops is valued at 22 billion euros
                  • In the UK vegetation removing pollution is valued highly at just over £1billion annually, and the sequestering of carbon another billion still.

 

Now let us dive a little further into the so-called cultural services provided by eco-systems, something I like to call nature therapy.

Spending time in wild spaces is soothing. We have always known it, it’s both calming and energising – that feeling of relaxation, the desire to breath more deeply, unwind, the feeling of calm you get from time spent in nature. We’ve always known it feels good but now many global studies have shown that time spent in nature has proven health benefits.

Studies have shown that nature experiences directly affect human mental health, and mental illness accounts for a as much as 32% of the total global burden of disease (GBD).

Evidence supports an association between common types of nature experiences and increased psychological well-being, including increased happiness and subjective well-being, positive social interactions, cohesion and engagement, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, improved manageability of life tasks, and decreases in mental distress.

It’s been shown to positively affect cognitive function, memory and attention, children’s school performance as well as imagination and creativity.

There is an association between nature experiences and a reduction of mental illness, starting with the basics like improved sleep and reductions in stress through to a decreased incidence of anxiety disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.

Studies have shown that filling a neighbourhood with trees had the long term effect of increasing the immune system functioning and lowering inflammation levels of residents in the area. A study in Los Angeles found that the more parks that were within 500 meters of a home, the lower children’s body mass index was.

You may have heard of the term “forest bathing” or Shinrin-yoku. It is thought that aerosols from the forests, inhaled during a walk, are behind elevated levels of Natural Killer or NK cells in the immune system, which fight tumours and infections.

But you don’t have to immerse yourself deep in a primary forest to gain the benefits from nature. A study emitted essential oils from cedars in a bedroom caused a significant spike in NK cells. You can gain the benefits of nature therapy by spending time gardening, listening to birds and running water, walking barefoot on grass or sand, sitting near a fountain.

‘Attention Restoration Theory’ maintains that nature holds our attention more broadly and effortlessly which relaxes the body and mind, as compared to a bustling city or stressful environment where it’s an effort to hold one’s attention. It’s thought that the ‘fascination attention’ from staring at trees blowing in a breeze or at a stream or fire or an insect carrying about its’ tasks is what calms the mind.

So my wish for all of you out there is to make sure you get your fix of the wild and this nature therapy, every day and every week and we sure hope to share some of these with you this year and beyond. And as we each engage positively with nature so we are reminded to conserve these ecosystems and biodiversity that are so fundamental to our existence.