My Wild Life – Celebrating Wellbeing with Nature - Kelly Bray

Our Wellbeing with Nature project as we know it is coming to an end, having inspired many to learn new skills, build confidence and lead healthier lives through experiencing nature and being outdoors. Our Wellbeing with Nature Project Manager, Kelly, reflects on her experiences in the team, and the impact she has seen through their work.

I joined Avon Wildlife Trust in 2009 and have worked on community projects working with young people, older people, BAME communities, in areas with higher levels of deprivation, learning disabilities, people experiencing mental ill health or those with long term health conditions. Whatever their age or background everyone has the right to be who they are and experience nature in their own way. That is what is so special about my work, and nature itself. Nature is for everyone.

Over my twelve years at the Trust I have worked on three major projects, People and Wildlife, Communities and Nature and the project I want to celebrate today, Wellbeing with Nature. Wellbeing with Nature – well, as they say, ‘it’s exactly what it says on the tin’. Not ‘through’ nature, not ‘in’ nature, not ‘using’ nature for our benefit alone - but ‘with’ nature! A reciprocal approach that has positive outcomes for people’s wellbeing and a clear positive impact on the environment.

I have developed personally and taken a journey with AWT that has brought new learning, experiences, and impact. At this point I would like to say a big thank you to Big Lottery Reaching Communities Fund whose funding has helped us build a project that is meaningful and impactful in so many ways. I’m also grateful to the Natural Academy for training and guiding me, and the team we formed together to co-develop an inspiring and innovative project. 

Our self-care courses brought together wellbeing interventions such as nature-based mindfulness practices and reflecting on emotional awareness, motivation and purposeful activities. This gave participants the tools to resource and help manage their health and achieve greater wellbeing. At the same time, providing meaningful wildlife-related activities allowed them to be part of a group, exercise at their own pace and gain a sense of belonging and achievement. This helped them work towards positive behavioural changes to self-care and greater care of our natural environment.

The impact on people was clear with a more rapid and positive response than I had experienced over my whole career. Whether it was a mood shift, a sparkle in the eyes while spotting a bird of prey or laughter over a cuppa, the sessions offered different things to different people. The one thing for sure is that all increased their connection to nature and fostered their compassion and care for nature into the future.

Connecting to nature is fundamental to our health and wellbeing and our ability to adopt positive environmental behaviours and is often experienced through our senses, feelings, meaning, reflections, beauty, and inspiration. Noticing nature is good for us, experiencing everyday nature with all our senses; listening to birdsong, watching clouds go by or smelling wildflowers.  Experiencing the awe of a sunset and beauty of a rainbow. Noticing the good things in nature, experiencing the joy and calm they can bring, and sharing feelings about nature with others.

I feel fortunate that I was brought up in the countryside. I would spend many weekends playing in the woods, making dens, camping out and cooking on the fire. Who in their lifetime has blown on a blade of grass to make that distinct sound? Purposely walked and scrunched through autumn leaves? Peered over a bridge with a stick in hand to initiate Pooh sticks? I have! After reading my article I urge you to look out the window and notice what you see.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone, and it has been tough starting 2021 in another lockdown. The climate emergency and crisis of biodiversity loss continues to escalate and shows that the human-nature relationship isn’t working.  Coronavirus and lockdowns have seen our mental health worsening, but more positively this experience has also led people to appreciate the difference that nature makes to our lives in a new way.

There is an increased awareness of the link between our own health, and that of the planet. This awareness is something I have been striving for, so I am overjoyed and pleased to announce that in Dec 2020 our local NHS provider was one of seven areas in the UK to be awarded funding from the Government to pilot a system wide approach to green prescribing. As a collaborative partnership project facilitated by the West of England Nature Partnership, I look forward to working with the NHS to share my experiences and learning. If we can all work collectively, people and wildlife can recover and thrive together.

To find out more about the Wellbeing with Nature Project at Avon Wildlife Trust the legacy it has left, visit: avonwildlifetrust.org.uk/wellbeing-with-nature