Wake up and smell the roses: how the pandemic is emphasising the importance of nature

  • Over half the population have reported that nature has uplifted their mood during lockdown
  • Environmentalists urge that people need to receive more education on nature
  • Manchester project Ignition is tackling environmental crisis through nature-based solutions 

Grateful for its calming green and melodic chirping, credit is owed to our old friends flora and fauna for carrying us through the endless lockdowns.

Now more than ever, we open our arms to embrace spring’s promise of warmer temperatures and longer days which guarantee to make our pandemic nature walks more enjoyable.

Since lockdown restrictions began, many of us have connected more with nature and wildlife to alleviate anxiety and pandemic blues, and, although this has been more challenging for those living in inner city areas, it has highlighted the importance of nature for our overall wellbeing.

Spring blossom at St John’s Gardens in Spinningfields

A poll by National Trust has revealed that 68% of adults agreed that being in nature has improved their mood during lockdown while 55% of the population plan on spending more time in nature once lockdown is over.

Similarly, a report by The Wildlife Trust found that 99% of respondents from Manchester and its surrounding areas said spending time outside and connecting with nature during the virus restrictions has been very important for them.

Through recent years, Manchester has taken steps towards a greener way of living, aiming to improve people’s overall wellbeing and tackle the climate crisis.

In light of this, praise must be given to the inspiring work by local charities and campaigns committed to restoring nature and our knowledge around its importance.

Committed to the environment since 1962, The Wildlife Trust of Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside manages a network of 50 nature reserves and key wildlife sites, as well as delivering environmental education to an estimated 20,000 children annually.

Consisting of approximately 28,000 members, it is a leading conservation charity whose mission is to protect and nourish wildlife, while simultaneously inspiring people to engage with their natural surroundings.

Alan Wright has worked for the Trust as campaign and communications manager for ten years.

He said: “Nature is important to everybody.

“About 30% of the food we eat depends on pollinators like bees, so it affects us all.

“During lockdown it has become more important because people have depended on it.”

In addition to our improved relationship with nature, nature itself has also benefitted from the slower pace of human life, with wildlife increasingly spotted occupying public spaces.

Alan believes taking our foot off the pedal has played a big part in these positive changes.

He said: “Right at the start of lockdown people were taking it really seriously – people weren’t driving and were all in their houses. We were actually hearing and seeing more wildlife.”

However, Alan believes a lot more can be done and, for many environmentalists, it is frustrating to see the lack of nature education offered to the general public, emphasising the significant role of politics and the educational system.

He said: “We’ve had a couple of general elections, we’ve had a Labour election, we’ve had a Brexit election and nature is so far down in the agenda.

“Nature is important, it should be on the curriculum and people should learn about it.”

Fortunately, Alan isn’t the only one dreaming of a greener Manchester, as additional local projects across the city are also working to unite communities with mother earth.

Ignition is a Manchester-based project dedicated to creating innovative ways of financing nature-based solutions to ease the environmental crisis and help people access ways to connect with nature.

Its nature-based solutions include green spaces, green walls and rain gardens proven to positively impact nature, human health and wellbeing by maintaining suitable temperatures for native species, reducing noise pollution, decreasing air pollution and even reducing crime rates.

Ignition green walls at The University of Salford’s living lab 

Ignition and its project partners, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), City of Trees and Groundwork Greater Manchester, surveyed over 2,000 people across the city to gain an understanding of people’s views and knowledge of nature.

An astonishing 98% of respondents said they would like more green spaces in Manchester City Centre, 85% thought that Greater Manchester is only moderately green and 89% thought that greenspaces had a positive effect on human wellbeing.

Nonetheless, responses also stressed a lack of awareness in the ways nature-based solutions can positively impact climate resilience, with only 39% reporting that greenspaces had a large positive impact on reducing heat waves, and 61% reporting a positive effect on reducing urban flooding.

Campaign Manager Jennifer Lane and Community Outreach Coordinator Rosie Naylor stress that it is essential citizens receive education on nature-based solutions and their positive impact through inclusive and accessible means, which break down complicated language barriers that prevent effective engagement and learning.

As a result, the project offers an engagement programme, consisting of workshops that make learning about nature accessible and inclusive to everyone, while exploring people’s connection to their environment and encouraging individuals to use their voice.

Rosie said: “It’s really important that citizens are able to express their opinions about what they’d like the city to look like in the future, also they’re very important advocates for helping with decision making.”

During lockdown, members of the general public have been taking part in the virtual workshops developed by Ignition to encourage people to remain involved during a difficult time where many are realising just how valuable nature is.

Jennifer said: “I have been noticing nature a lot more and it’s just been so beneficial in every respect, I don’t know how many of us would have got through lockdown if we weren’t within a mile of green space, which thankfully in Manchester many communities are.”

The project is enthusiastic to continue spreading awareness and Jennifer hopes it can reach other regions across the country.

For now, while it continues to set pioneering ground in Manchester, the project invites the public to see the benefits of nature-based solutions in action, available at the living lab in The University of Salford.

For nature lovers such as Ian, Jennifer and Rosie, hopes are high that the pandemic has served as a wake-up call for individuals to start realising why we must all play our part to tackle the environmental crisis and learn about nature.

It’s truly the time for us all to wake up and smell the roses.