Wildness and Wellbeing

Thanks to Lucy Sparks, John Muir Award Scotland Inclusion Manager, for writing this guest-blog about the benefits of spending time and learning outdoors.

As I sit down at the laptop at home, despite all the change, challenge and uncertainty of recent months, my mind today is full of tiny white bells and deep green shoots. Snowdrop season is here, and I’ve just returned from a loop of my local park.

Throughout the pandemic, many have developed a renewed appreciation of neighbourhood wildness. From window boxes to back gardens, parks and canals, hills and coasts, wildlife always has something to offer wherever we happen to be. One day, a splash of colour, the whoosh of wind whipping at your hair or a natural curiosity lying on a path; another, we might stumble across a neglected nature nook, or a vertical lichen ladder spindling up a drainpipe.

The power of fresh air and nature to switch off from day-to-day stresses, tune in to the here and now and rejuvenate the mind never fails to amaze. In working for the John Muir Trust – a conservation charity dedicated to the experience, protection and repair of wild places – I’m fortunate to spend my days talking to people about outdoor learning, connecting with nature, and the benefits this can offer for our health and wellbeing.

The John Muir Award is the Trust’s main engagement initiative, encouraging people to connect with, enjoy and care for wild places. Each participant engages with nature in ways meaningful to them – creating space for curiosity, skills building, growing confidence, celebrating achievement and giving back through practical actions that benefit people and planet. It’s used by a variety of organisations across the UK, including colleges – take a look at our recent activity summary to find out more.

Since the first lockdown, we’ve seen such resourcefulness and creativity from organisations delivering the Award whilst adapting to remote learning, teaching and working. Weekly prompts and ideas-sharing have been proving popular, offering a bit of structure but allowing participants to follow their own interests and adapt tasks to suit whatever local wild places they can safely access. Digital platforms have been giving valuable space for sharing learning, experiences and connecting with peers, while taking household members out and about – to walk, talk, birdwatch or cloud gaze – have helped engage families and friends too.

To help organisations supporting participants from a distance, we’ve recently produced Remote Delivery and the John Muir Award, a resource collating tips and activity ideas based on what’s been working well for others during lockdowns and restrictions; as well as a collection of stories showcasing how different organisations have been adapting their usual ways of working.

With the snowdrops here, spring is around the corner. As we all find our way in continuing to adapt through work, education and our communities over the months to come, our wild places have a lot to offer us and we have a lot to give back – helping people and nature recover and thrive together.

Want to know more about the John Muir Award?

  • See our short animation introducing what’s involved:

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