The fourth event in a series sharing projects promoting our connection with nature, this event brought together enterprises BF adventure and Nature Connects to showcase their successes in engaging people with nature and to discuss the challenges they have faced. Dan Raven-Ellison also shared insights into campaigning for increased connectivity between people and nature through his campaigns to make London the first National Park City and the creation of Slow Ways – a network of paths connecting communities across the UK.

The time of this event was highly relevant as the same morning, Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, called for the creation of ‘wild belt’ areas to restore and protect nature, saying “what is critical is making space for nature close to where people live and we need to protect them in the long term to allow nature to recover”. Designated ‘wild belt’ land is proposed as a part of England’s future planning strategy and would cover both land across the countryside and within towns and cities. The Wildlife Trust say that the ‘wild belts’ are necessary to ensure government target of 30% of England in nature recovery status by 2030.

The strengthening of ties between people and nature is a fundamental aim of Cornwall’s Environment Growth Strategy (2015-2065) and is a focus of Tevi’s work in the region.

Click here if you would like to learn more about Tevi’s progress to deliver Cornwall’s Environmental Growth Strategy.

Our first speaker was Adrian Richards from BF Adventure an outdoor activity centre and education charity based in Penryn, Cornwall. BF Adventure’s mission is to support young people on their journey of positive change by empowering them and providing them the tools to overcome the challenges presented by social interactions, education and work. The unique outdoor setting at BF Adventure – a restored brownfield quarry site – allows visitors to fully engage with nature and immerse themselves in adventure. The staff team pride themselves on assisting children and young adults in developing various skills including increased confidence, sense of empowerment, improved communication, creation of positive relationships and enhanced well-being. BF Adventure’s approach to engaging young people is to combine outdoor education, youth work and child development. There are a huge number of available activities including paddle boarding, climbing, archery, zip wire, abseiling, low ropes, bush-crafts, campfires and den building. Alongside the charitable work, the site is open to the public and facilitates school groups and corporate trips.

Working with Tevi, BF Adventures has opened up several nature trails, improved the signage to include interpretational signs to increase the accessibility of the site and led to the installation of wildlife camera traps. The opening of the site to the public via these trails has increased community engagement, led to the restoration of key heathland habitat, maximised the health and well-being of visitors and resulted in the creation of more volunteering opportunities.

Next, we heard from Alice Wall and Sarah Witts from Nature Connects a non-profit organisation based in Cornwall that offers nature connection through events, workshops, and forest school. Their aim is to engage people with the “transformative power of nature to grow a happier, healthier society”. Connection with nature has many proven health and well-being  benefits including improved physical health – reduced blood pressure, slower heart rate, better sleep and lower stress, reduced demand for health services, improved connection with others, increased confidence and self-esteem and improved outlook on life and future opportunities. Nature connects offers both 1:1 and group sessions on a range of activities including nature-based mindfulness, sensory-based activities and creating supportive space for people to open up. Activities also educate participants on a range of practical skills such as plant and animal identification, natural crafts, foraging, herbal medicine and survival skills.

Nature Connects is particularly focused on working with people that have been adversely affected by Coronavirus, including carers, key workers and those socially isolating. Many people felt a greater connection with nature during lockdown, with a recent report finding that 81% of people reported feeling happier after visiting nature and 89% agreeing that increasing accessible green space would improve people’s health (RSPB Lockdown). However, the same report found that lockdown negatively impacted health and well-being, particularly those without accessibility to nature – just 34% of household without outdoor space are within a 10 minute walk of accessible nature and people who make less than £10,000p.a are 3.6 times mor likely to not have outdoor space (RSPB Lockdown). People living in areas of Cornwall are particularly vulnerable to these negative impacts due to health inequalities, economic deprivation, social isolation, high unemployment, and limited access to wild spaces. Nature Connects is currently fundraising to expand their services and provide more events. Alice and Sarah are striving to make nature connection mainstream and incorporated into our health care systems.

Finally, Daniel Raven-Ellison, a guerrilla geographer and National Geographic Explorer introduced several of the major campaigns he is currently running. Dan’s work aims to challenge himself and others to view the world in more sustainable ways by combining creative exploration, exciting geography and effective communication to combat social and environmental challenges simultaneously. Dan first outlined the Slow Ways project, which aims to create a network of walking routes that connects all of Great Britain’s towns and cities as well as thousands of villages by linking people and places. Using existing footpaths, the Slow Ways project is mapping walks between neighbouring settlements to provide improved access between communities, encouraging both short walks to reduce transport pressures and long walks for people seeking adventure. The routes should all be direct, off-road, safe and accessible, have resting places every 5-10km, pass through areas with facilities including bus/train stations and begin and end in communities. Due to Coronavirus, over 7,000 routes, covering 100,00km and 2,500 destinations were mapped by over 700 volunteers within a single month! The project has completed the initial mapping phase and is currently being reviewed by volunteers. The aim is to publish the map online and make it freely available via Ordnance Survey by the end of the year.

Dan also presented his campaign with National Geographic about making London a National Park City to encourage people to change their opinions and to see themselves as a part of nature not separate from it. The project aims to show people how nature is a part of our urban environment and to demonstrate how we can support and conserve wildlife within our capital city.

After our key speakers had concluded their talks, we ran an interactive Q&A session with the event attendees to discuss key topics and the challenges facing Cornwall and the rest of the UK. One key topic discussed was how to engage more people with nature. Adrian believes that it is important to involve the educational sector, particularly by creating a stronger emphasis on outdoor play and learning from pre-school. Dan said that we must normalise being respectful of all sentient life and connect animal rights with nature conservation through psychological changes. Alice and Sarah added that the amount of wild space available to people needs to increase and that nature protection will be strengthened through increased engagement and education. Also, that our voted representatives must understand and support our vision to connect with nature.

Discussion moved to the importance of allowing spaces to be taken over by nature and allowed to become wild. Dan spoke of a recent visit to an estate in London that had neglected to look after its green space and had inadvertently created a beautiful wildflower meadow that was providing habitat to threatened pollinators in the centre of London. Adrian, Alice & Sarah agreed that public opinion towards wild spaces must change, that we need to move away from the use of damaging chemicals to allow nature recovery. Sarah also said that we need to create nature advocates through nature education, that promote and protect our wild spaces.

The speakers concluded the event by reflecting on what they want to see in the future to engage more people with nature. Alice & Sarah highlighted the need for effective collaboration between like-minded organisations to work towards the common aim of connection to wild-self and recognition of our place in nature. Dan summarised by saying that we possess the expertise, talent, and energy to address these challenges, but that we need the scale to deliver nation-wide, lasting change. We need to communicate to our leaders that we need and want connection with nature.

As always, a huge thanks you to our speakers for their time supporting this event, and to the audience for their enthusiasm engaging with the speakers through the event and with their questions. Tevi has many more upcoming webinars exploring the key economic and environmental challenges facing Cornwall.

You can watch the full webinar here: