Cultures of Nature and Wellbeing: Connecting Health and the Environment through Literature

Lead Research Organisation: Bath Spa University
Department Name: College of Liberal Arts

Abstract

The connection between human wellbeing and the natural environment is a pervasive theme in C.20th and C.21st literature. However, there has been no significant scholarship that addresses nature-wellbeing connections in modern writing. Current campaigning by the Wildlife Trusts for a Nature and Wellbeing Act suggests that now is an opportune moment to consider what C.20th and 21st century literature reveals about the role that engagements with nature play in enhancing wellbeing. What new perspectives can literature offer on subjective experiences of nature? Can policy debates about nature's value be enhanced by insights into how nature and wellbeing connections have been understood and expressed in literary culture?

This project examines literature that reflects on human-nature relations at several key moments between 1914 and the present, beginning with post-WW1 accounts of warfare as devastating to nature and the human and including New Nature Writing focused on relations between nature and health and popular science accounts of childhood experiences of nature. This latter period corresponds with the rise of 'green care' approaches in health and the growth of scientific studies of nature-wellbeing relations. Green care has emerged in the context of worsening environmental crisis, which environmentalists have linked to disconnection from first-hand experiences of nature. This project explores links between literature, health and environmentalism over the last century. Its aim is to inform research and policymaking at a moment when human-nature relations are of increasingly urgent local, national and global significance, both in current wellbeing initiatives, and manifold environmental crises.

Cultures of Nature and Wellbeing brings literary research into direct dialogue with other perspectives on nature-wellbeing relations in ways that will impact on campaigning by The Wildlife Trusts (WT) as they build a case a Nature and Wellbeing Act. While the WT have numerous scientific partners, this project offers unique cultural and historical insights that add new layers of understanding to research linking nature and wellbeing, showing the dynamic role that humanities research can play in public life.The project also offers an original contribution to humanities scholarship by pioneering new research methods. Using a 'citizen's science' model for the humanities, its interactive website allows readers to share literary examples of nature-wellbeing relations. This forms the basis of an online Nature and Wellbeing Library. Three Nature and Wellbeing Forums will involve experts with backgrounds in health, environment and public policy in the discussion of different perspectives on nature and wellbeing. These methods are geared to collecting evidence and expanding perspectives on the key questions and themes of the project. For example, how do the public and experts from different areas understand the terms 'nature' and 'wellbeing', and how have these understandings been shaped culturally? By combining collaborative and interdisciplinary research methods with textual analysis and archival research, the project explores how nature and wellbeing relations have changed over the last century and reveals how this history shapes current human-nature relations.

Finally, the project brings the fields of health and environmental humanities into dialogue. This involves overcoming the human-centred and ecocentric biases of the respective fields to examine literary responses to green care, first person accounts of recovery in encounters with nature, and the medicalisation of environmentalism, particularly the controversial notion of 'nature deficit disorder'. How can collaboration between health practitioners and environmentalists be reproduced in new fields in the humanities? What new perspectives on the question of what it means to be human, and to be in health, might be opened up by a combined health-environmental humanities approach?

Planned Impact

The project has been thoroughly planned to ensure that it has valuable and timely public and policy impact. Core non-academic groups will benefit in the following ways:

The Wildlife Trusts (WT) and their partners, including the RSPB and Centre for Sustainable Healthcare
Between 2016 and 2018, the WT will be building evidence, exchanging knowledge and forming a multi-institutional network to advance their campaign for a Nature and Wellbeing Act. The WT support this project's aims to develop cultural and critical thinking about nature-wellbeing relationships. My research into literature's representation of subjective experiences of nature and wellbeing will be used to inform policy reports, quantitative and qualitative research, and the campaign narrative. Forums will be part of the WT's nature and wellbeing programme; posts and articles in WT publications will reach their members, their multi-institutional network (25 organisations) and interested members of the public.

Environmental groups
Direct impact through involvement in Forums; access to outputs including the project blog, the WT's blog and pamphlet in order to explore how cultural, environmental and health humanities theoretical perspectives on human-nature relations may inform the direction of their own campaigns.

Health providers and service users
Direct impact through participation in Forums; blog posts and leaflets that broaden knowledge about health and wellbeing in ways that may influence how and where healthcare is provided and the values that underpin it; discussion of different health care approaches from literary perspectives.

Policymakers
The project has the ultimate goal of offering original cultural and historical insights to inform a campaign aiming to shape UK government policy and the policies of the Departments of Councils and Local Government, and Environment and Rural Affairs. The Secretary of State, public bodies including the Environment Agency and new independent body ensuring nature is protected in law would all have specific responsibilities if the Act was passed. My research will be broadcast by The Wildlife Trusts and will influence the case made for the Act in their policy reports. There is considerable policy impact potential for this research if conducted during the timeframe proposed, and in collaboration with The Wildlife Trusts.

Public and environment
The Nature and Wellbeing Act would have pervasive impact in terms of provision of green infrastructure; support for healthy environments in local planning; engagement with nature in schools; protection of exploited ecosystems; wellbeing benefits of access to nature; human and environmental benefits of thriving ecosystems and recovery of biodiversity (see Nature & Wellbeing Act Green Paper 2015). This research has the capacity to add a vital new element to multi-institutional campaigning capable of deepening public understandings of nature-wellbeing connections and involving the public in discussions about the Act. Public impact will be ensured through digital and social media outreach (Nature and Wellbeing Library, blog, Twitter, The Wildlife Trusts' site) and articles in The Wildlife Trusts' magazine. Findings will be shared with local and national media in targeted press releases.

Impact will be captured through:
- feedback forms at Forums; Google Forms questionnaire on blog and in emails;
- level of engagement with the Nature and Wellbeing Library (amount of entries, variety of submissions);
- blog views, measured through Wordpress analytics, including word search and region;
- collaborator's and policymakers' direct use of research, including citations and references to the project and use of literary/cultural sources in nature and wellbeing communications and reporting;
- press and media mentions, monitored through Google alerts;
- evidence of longer-term impact on Forum participants and the WT gathered at project-end through Google Forms questionnaire.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Self Heal 
Description A collection of poems arising from the concerns of the project, which explores processes of destruction and healing, testing the possibilities of self and collective care and humanity's relationship with the natural world. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Poems from the collection have been taught on university modules concerned with environmentalism and identity, including at the universities of Cambridge and Greenwich. The poetry collection has been reviewed by Spam magazine and published by Granta Magazine, a leading international publisher of poetry and prose. 
URL https://www.boilerhouse.press/product-page/self-heal
 
Description Carson Writing Fellowship
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (RCC) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start 11/2018 
End 05/2019
 
Description West of England Nature Partnership 
Organisation West of England Nature Partnership
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I am a member of the West of England Nature Partnership's Green Care Strategy Group. The group aims to bring outdoor and nature therapies into mainstream medical practice, and promote the value of nature in all health, education, economic and town planning policy in the West of England. I am a spokesperson for Bath Spa University and am also responsible for sharing cultural and historical perspectives on nature's use in healthcare with the group and the general public.
Collaborator Contribution My research base is in literature and cultural history. Participation in the WENP strategy group has helped expand the public reach of my research and also acted as a form of research itself. I am interested in the rise of modern discourses of nature and wellbeing, and ethical questions raised by the rise of a medicalised and scientific nature wellbeing discourse. Partnership with WENP has allowed me to explore these intersections with the policymakers, medics, and practitioners leading the 'ecological turn' in modern medicine.
Impact The group is newly established and so far there are no tangible outcomes.
Start Year 2018
 
Description 'Hacking it: Mental Health, Resilience and Solidarity in the Academy.' University of Glasgow. Casting the Runes: The Future of the University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I spoke about the rise of wellbeing discourse in universities and considered how institutions could enhance and support the mental health of their staff and students. The talk raised a lively discussion, with a Dean of School asking me for advice about how to support her postgraduate students in particular.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.sgsah.ac.uk/e&t/headline_590489_en.html
 
Description 'Nature, Wellbeing and Creativity' Bristol Natural History Consortium Nature and Wellbeing 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I gave a workshop at the Bristol Natural History Consortium Nature and Wellbeing Festival, organised as part of Bristol Festival of Nature. 18 people attended for workshop exploring how writing about nature - including poetry, fiction, and non-fiction prose - could be used as a way of engaging people in nature and wellbeing activities, and to help people express and explore their own relationships with nature. Attendees included environmental policymakers in Bristol, the leaders of the West of England Nature Partnership, and nature and wellbeing practitioners from grass roots organisations across the South West and wider UK. As a result of this activity, I was invited to young the Green Care Strategy Group at the West of England Nature Partnership.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bnhc.org.uk/festival-of-nature/nature-health-wellbeing-conference/
 
Description Being Human Festival: Environmental Humanities at Burdall's Yard 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A talk to members of the public at an event focused on the role the arts and humanities have to play in responding to environmental crisis. Around 40 people attended this session, including members of the public, postgrad students and local artists and environmental organisations. There were opportunities for feedback and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Blog post on Network of Wellbeing website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to write a blog post on the Network of Wellbeing website. NOW are the major UK network for third sector organisations, therapists and practitioners concerned about wellbeing in the UK. After having met the organisation leaders at a previous public engagement forum organised as part of the project, I was asked to explain what literature and culture has to offer the nature and wellbeing movement. This is a sign that stakeholders from different communities have changed their views and opinions, and now recognise that the humanities has something to offer to the movement, as well as the sciences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://networkofwellbeing.org/2018/11/09/what-does-literature-tell-us-about-nature-and-wellbeing/
 
Description Cultures of Nature and Wellbeing Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This project blog contains original posts, reports on events and activities and information about future plans and ways of connecting to the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
URL http://culturenaturewellbeing.wordpress.com
 
Description Cultures of Nature and Wellbeing Workshop, Bath Spa University 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A workshop which brought together professional wellbeing and mental health practitioners, environmental organisations, postgraduate and undergraduate students, wildlife campaigners and members of academic staff to discuss the current state of wellbeing and nature relations in the UK, the impact of policies on different stakeholders, and possibilities for future collaborative work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://culturenaturewellbeing.wordpress.com/events/
 
Description Nature and Wellbeing Forum, Bristol Festival of Nature 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact This event investigated the meaning of 'nature' and 'wellbeing' in different cultural, environmental, therapeutic, and research contexts. Expert speakers shared their experiences and expertise, identifying shared values and points of difference. The event showcase the perspectives of NGOs and charities involved in social and environmental campaigning (The Wildlife Trusts, Happy City UK), practitioners interested in innovative and sustainable approaches to care (EcoWild, Creativity Works, The Creative Adventurer), academics working in cultural, scientific and educational fields (Prof. Owain Jones, Dr Alyson Lewis, Rebecca Crowther, Rich Gorman), and representatives of youth initiatives and community groups (Mya-Rose Craig, Black2Nature).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/nature-and-wellbeing-forum-tickets-33811671620#
 
Description Nature and Wellbeing Workshop, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact What do we mean when we talk about 'nature' and 'wellbeing'? How do our understandings of these terms influence our perceptions of the relationship between flourishing ecosystems and human health, and how have nature and wellbeing relations changed historically? This event will investigate the meaning of 'nature' and 'wellbeing' in different cultural, environmental, therapeutic, and research contexts. Expert speakers will share their experiences and expertise, identifying shared values and points of difference. The event will showcase the perspectives of practitioners involved in innovative and sustainable approaches to care, academics working in cultural, scientific and educational fields, and representatives of wellbeing initiatives and community groups. There will also be guided walks and activities and many opportunities to contribute to the discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://culturenaturewellbeing.wordpress.com/events/
 
Description Public talk, Into the Mountain: A Meet. Tramway, Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 100 people attended the Into the Mountain: A Meet gathering to explore women's experiences of mountaineering. A major strand of my research involves equality of access, gendered experiences of nature, and different ways of being in a place, for the benefits of wellbeing and health. I spoke about the legacy of the Scottish mountaineer and writer, Nan Shepherd, with particular focus on her meditative writing on being in nature. My panel was composed of another researcher exploring Dorothy Wordsworth's legacy, and a mountain leader whose work involves helping BAME women from Glasgow access the hills. We found common ground around questions of access, diversity and equality in nature, and during and following the event, many women expressed interest in Shepherd's writing and her unique approach to being present in the hills, for the benefit of wellbeing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.intothemountain.co.uk/project/book-tickets-for-a-meet-at-glasgow-tramway/
 
Description Talk at Bethlem Gallery, Bethlem Royal Hospital, as part of Traces exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A poetry reading and talk in tandem with the exhibition 'Traces' by artist-in-residence Beth Hopkins. As a poet, I was invited to respond to the Bethlem site and its history. The reading took place in the gallery studio to an audience of museum staff, artists, hospital residents (in and out patients) and the general public. I was able to respond to the natural history of the site, and learn more about the use of the hospital's extensive landscaped grounds in therapy sessions run by hospital staff, volunteers and patients. The immediate impact was a discussion about the meaning of 'nature' to patients and the significance of the holistic hospital environment in care and recovery. Patient autonomy in accessing this space was also important. The patients were encouraged to voice their experiences, and the staff to reflect on the importance of therapeutic environments beyond the walls of the hospital.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://bethlemgallery.com/2017/05/traces-workshops/