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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Natural Thinking 1st edition Report for the RSPB Dr William Bird

I have posted the introduction to this report as I believe it has far reaching implications for the future of Nature Therapy within the UK, you can read the full report on my articles page…

The Value of the Natural Environment

This report, commissioned by the RSPB, looks at the evidence linking wildlife-rich areas and green space with mental health. Past generations have intuitively understood this relationship, perhaps better than we do, yet the evidence needed to quantify the health value of the natural environment is still evolving.

It is a paradox that as a society we find it unacceptable to take wild animals to be kept in captivity, yet older people in residential care homes can stay indoors for years with no access to the stimulation of the outside world. We spend millions to create ideal conditions for our garden plants balancing the right soil with the correct amount of shade and the right moisture, yet we allow our children to grow up in a hostile urban wilderness with concrete walkways, heavy traffic and no contact with nature.

Logic would suggest that after 10,000 generations having to survive in a natural environment, human evolution would have programmed our genes to perform best in a favoured natural environment of water, shelter, food and safety. By the same logic, it would be surprising if the rapid disconnection of humans from nature in just a few generations did not cause some difficulty to adapt to this new environment. EO Wilson, who proposes the Biophilia hypothesis, says that ‘beauty is in the eye of the gene’; a deep genetic sequence may be hard to erase despite our efforts to be technically independent from nature and the natural environment.

Humans are a species with as much need for the natural environment as any other. However, we are also a social species that thrives in towns and cities and has prospered with the use of technology. But neither technology nor cities can replace our need for the natural environment. We have to keep a balance. By disconnecting from our natural environment, we have become strangers to the natural world: our own world. This has challenged our sense of identity and in some more subtle ways has had a significant affect on our mental health.

This report is one step to bring together the evidence in this area of mental health. It is a start, but much more rigorous data is required if we are to quantify the strength of this effect and measure which aspects of mental health are benefited. It suggests that contact with the natural environment may offer considerable mental health benefits and have a positive effect on communities. In essence, this means that the natural environment has a quantifiable health value.

With a dearth of solutions for major problems such as obesity, inactivity, stress and antisocial behaviour, which governments are struggling to solve, the value of the natural environment needs to be understood, quantified and then acted upon. To ignore these findings may result in further loss of natural green space that will never be recovered and so deprive future generations of a “natural health service”.

Dr William Bird, June 2007

To access this report follow this link Wilderness Therapy Articles

Monday, 20 September 2010

Science News - Can Bacteria Make You Smarter?

ScienceDaily (May 25, 2010) — Exposure to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior, according to research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

"Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breath in when they spend time in nature," says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks.

Previous research studies on M. vaccae showed that heat-killed bacteria injected into mice stimulated growth of some neurons in the brain that resulted in increased levels of serotonin and decreased anxiety.

"Since serotonin plays a role in learning we wondered if live M. vaccae could improve learning in mice," says Matthews.

Matthews and Jenks fed live bacteria to mice and assessed their ability to navigate a maze compared to control mice that were not fed the bacteria.

"We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice," says Matthews.

In a second experiment the bacteria were removed from the diet of the experimental mice and they were retested. While the mice ran the maze slower than they did when they were ingesting the bacteria, on average they were still faster than the controls.

A final test was given to the mice after three weeks' rest. While the experimental mice continued to navigate the maze faster than the controls, the results were no longer statistically significant, suggesting the effect is temporary.

"This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals," says Matthews. "It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks."

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Japan Times - 'Forest therapy' taking root

Friday, May 2, 2008

Researchers find that a simple stroll among trees has real benefits


For stressed-out workers, this may someday be a doctor's prescription: Walk around in the woods. Scientists in Japan have been learning a lot in recent years about the relaxing effects of forests and trees on mental and physical health. Based on their findings, some local governments are promoting "forest therapy."

Experience shows that the scents of trees, the sounds of brooks and the feel of sunshine through forest leaves can have a calming effect, and the conventional wisdom is right, said Yoshifumi Miyazaki, director of the Center for Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University.

Japan's leading scholar on forest medicine has been conducting physiological experiments to examine whether forests can make people feel at ease.

One study he conducted on 260 people at 24 sites in 2005 and 2006 found that the average concentration of salivary cortisol, a stress hormone, in people who gazed on forest scenery for 20 minutes was 13.4 percent lower than that of people in urban settings, Miyazaki said.

This means that forests can lower stress and make people feel at ease, he said, noting that findings in other physiological experiments, including fluctuations in heart beats and blood pressure, support this conclusion.

"Humans had lived in nature for 5 million years. We were made to fit a natural environment. So we feel stress in an urban area," Miyazaki said. "When we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to how they should be."

Taking a walk in a forest, or "forest bathing" as it is sometimes called, can strengthen the immune system, according to Li Qing, a senior assistant professor of forest medicine at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo.

Li conducted experiments to see whether spending time in a forest increases the activity of people's natural killer (NK) cells, a component of the immune system that fights cancer.

In one, 12 men took a two-night trip to a forest in Nagano Prefecture in 2006, during which they went on three leisurely strolls and stayed in a hotel in the woods. Thirteen female nurses made a similar trip to another forest in the prefecture in 2007.

NK activity was boosted in the subjects in both groups, and the increase was observed as long as 30 days later, Li said.

"When NK activity increases, immune strength is enhanced, which boosts resistance against stress," Li said, adding that forest therapy for immune-compromised patients may be developed within a few years.

Li said the increase in NK activity can be attributed partly to inhaling air containing phytoncide, or essential wood oils given off by plants.

Miyazaki of Chiba University said forests gratify the five senses by providing the sounds of birds, cool air, green leaves, the touch of trees, wild plants and grasses.

"The atmosphere of forests makes people calm," he said.

Based on studies on the effects of forests, the public and private sectors are now promoting forest therapy.

The Forest Therapy Executive Committee, a group of researchers, other intellectuals and the government-affiliated National Land Afforestation Promotion Organization, started officially recognizing certain forests by granting the designations of Forest Therapy Base and Forest Therapy Road in 2006. The titles are given to forests that have been found by researchers through scientific evidence to have relaxing effects.

Officials from the Forest Agency and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry participate in the group as observers.

A forest therapy base comprises a forest and walking paths typically managed by local governments.

So far, 31 bases and four roads nationwide have gained such recognition.

Visitors to some of the therapy bases and roads have the option of taking part in various health programs, including medical checkups, breathing and aromatherapy classes, and guided walks with experts on forests and health care.

At the Akazawa Natural Recreation Forest in Agematsu, Nagano Prefecture, which was recognized as a forest therapy base in 2006, visitors can get free medical checkups among Japanese cypress trees on Thursdays. The forest is known as the Japanese birthplace of the concept of forest bathing in 1982.

Some companies have come to use forest therapy for their employees' health care.

The Shinano Municipal Government in Nagano Prefecture, which manages the Iyashi no Mori (Healing Forests) forest therapy base, has contracts with four companies, a town official said.

Visitors to the forest therapy base can take part in various programs, including dietary management, hydrotherapy and aromatherapy.

The formal designations have drawn more people to such towns.

The Oguni Municipal Government in Yamagata Prefecture said 1,280 people visited the Nukumidaira beech forest there in fiscal 2007, including some 100 people who took part in forest walking tours with "matagi" traditional hunters.

"Before we got the recognition (in 2006), there were not so many visitors to the woods. Now we can see some people in the forest even on weekdays," said Juro Watanabe, a town official in charge of forest therapy.

Recognition as a forest therapy base can be a big help, said Shigetaka Harashima, manager of the forest therapy project for the Okutama Municipal Government in Tokyo.

The town received official recognition in April 2008 and is now cooperating with experts to draw up therapy programs that will be available next year.

Chiba University's Miyazaki said he hopes the number of forest therapy bases and roads will reach 100 nationwide over the next decade so people will have plenty of choices when they look for different types of forests.

"Some people like broadleaf forests and others prefer forests of conifer trees like hinoki cypress that give off a strong aroma," Miyazaki said. "I hope people try to find a forest that suits their tastes and visit them from time to time."

For more information about Forest Therapy Bases and Roads, visit

How a Walk in the Woods Can Save Your Life...

According the Health Sciences Institute stress is a killer.

That's generally acknowledged. But I wonder if people who cope daily with high stress levels are actually aware that stress really can TAKE your LIFE.

Research shows that one of the ways your body reacts to stress involves the release of chemicals linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Stress-related habits like overeating, sleep deprivation, and lack of exercise just add to that downward spiral.

Are you terrified yet?

If this stress spiral resembles your day-to-day life, then you may be an ideal candidate for a Japanese custom called shinrin-yoku, which translates as "forest bathing."

If you just pictured a bathtub in a forest — no, that's not forest bathing. Think of it like sun bathing. With shinrin- yoku, you immerse yourself in a forest or a park with plenty of trees for an hour or two, or however long you can. Take a walk. Enjoy the aromas, the sounds, the forest air.

But this is more than just a pleasant getaway. Research shows that forest bathing actually prompts physiological changes in your body that do more than help you relax — they actually empower your immune system and undo the harmful effects of stress.

Getting a whiff

Some researchers believe that exposure to phytoncides produces at least part of the beneficial effect of forest bathing.

Phytoncides are antimicrobial essential oils that protect plants from insects and other predators. In a forest setting with plenty of foliage, phytoncides become airborne — easily picked up by any forest bathers who might pass through.

Four years ago, a team from Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, studied the effect of phytoncides on the activity of natural killer (NK) cells. These cells seek out and destroy viruses, bacteria, and toxins. As you might guess, they're a vital line of your immune system's natural defence.

In this laboratory study, phytoncides significantly enhanced human NK activity.

One year later, the same Nippon Med team was back with another study that took them out of the lab and into the forest.

This time they recruited a dozen healthy middle-aged men who worked for large Tokyo corporations. Blood samples were taken before and after several forest trips over three days. In 11 of the 12 subjects, NK activity increased by about 50 per cent, and anti-cancer proteins were also generated. Later blood samples showed that these positive changes lasted more than seven days.

One year later, a study of the same design — but this time with women — produced nearly identical results. Again, the boosted NK levels lasted more than a week.

Apparently, "stop and smell the roses" may actually be life- saving advice.

It's nice to have tings you already know confirmed to you by research.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Audio, Visual or Kinesthetic which one are you?

I was talking with an ex-teacher yesterday and it was quite refreshing to hear what she had to say about our education system, it gave me hope that there might be more teachers like her out there.

She was saying that the state system not only fails our children but in particular it fails our young men, the curriculum is in favour of girls, one reason is, it requires our children to sit still for long periods of time which boys generally are unable to do.

She also pointed out that we all have different learning styles, some are visual, some are kinesthetic, however only a few are audio and yet the main method of teaching in our schools is audio, which in essence means no one is comfortable not the teacher in this lady's case she is visual and not the children particularly boys who just want to go out and explore.

So, is it any wonder that Forest schools and other teaching methods that involve nature in the curriculum are becoming more popular, as they are producing results like the girls school that involved bushcraft in their curriculum, their grades went up dramatically.

But, then again why should we be surprised at this. I believe we have an innate relationship with nature, the modern world has only been around for a very short time on the evolutionary scale and we are still trying to adjust to it, and as we are finding out not all the modern ways work for the better. That does not make them wrong, we often have to learn from our mistakes in order to find out if something works or not, it is just that the system will not always hold it's hands up to that and chalk it up to experience.